Tobias Harris is currently playing on the largest contract in Sixers history, a five-year, $180 million deal.
That might not be the case for long.
While Joel Embiid is under contract for two more seasons, he’s eligible to sign a four-year, supermax extension after being selected to the All-NBA Second Team.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks projected an Embiid supermax to be worth as much as approximately $190 million. Marks notes, “Although both sides can negotiate the total value of the contract (for example the salary in 2023-24 could be 33% of the cap and not 35%), the contract has to be for four seasons.” The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last month that Embiid has left Creative Arts Agency and is “interested in building the right marketing team.”
There’s potential for deep regret either way but our view is that Embiid, without question, merits a supermax deal.
A deep dive on his greatness isn’t necessary. He was the MVP runner-up and, if he’d played 10 or 15 more games, might have won that award. Such players are franchise cornerstones and off the table in trade discussions.
It’s also not ludicrous to think Embiid has room for improvement. At 27 years old, he’s only played 294 NBA games, counting the postseason. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was a teenager and showed off Dirk Nowitzki-inspired tools last season. Embiid hopes he’ll see more benefits from fine-tuning his diet and conditioning, too.
“I feel like I took a huge step this year and there’s so much more I can do,” he said following the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Hawks. “And I can be so much better, whether it’s my body — I feel like this year, that was the biggest year of my career, just taking care of my body. And talking with my nutritionist, she told me that it would take a while to see the results.
“Even playing injured in the postseason, I kind of started seeing the results about how I felt. Even though I was hurt and I was in pain, my body still felt somewhat OK. Me personally, I’ve just got to keep doing that. And basketball-wise, there’s so much more I can do. I progressed a lot this year and next year I’m going to be even better.”
Embiid played the Sixers’ entire second-round series against Atlanta on a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. It’s not yet clear whether he will undergo offseason surgery.
“I think we’ll all super impressed with what Joel was able to do,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said at his end-of-season press conference. “He’s sort of the heart and soul of the team, and what he did every night for us will forever be appreciated. In terms of what’s next, I know they’re going through a full assessment of him right now, the medical staff along with Joel and his very good team of advisors. The next step will be determined from that.”
The valid arguments against an Embiid supermax are almost entirely related to his health. The highest percentage of games he’s ever played in a regular season is 78 percent in the 2018-19 campaign. Bad luck has led to everything from a gruesome finger injury during the 2019-20 season to a left knee bone bruise that derailed his MVP hopes this year.
Even if he’s fortunate enough to avoid any serious injuries for the duration of his supermax, Embiid is a 7-footer who’d be entering his mid-30s and making around $50 million in Year 4 of the extension. At first glance, that’s a lot of money for a player who might not still be at his peak.
A more positive view is that Embiid’s game isn’t all about athleticism or blinding speed. He’s agile for his size, yes, but Embiid’s jump shooting and deft footwork should still be quite useful as he ages. On a few occasions, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers named Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing as players with certain qualities similar to Embiid. For what it’s worth, both Olajuwon and Ewing were legitimate All-Stars in their age-34 seasons.
Embiid, Harris and Ben Simmons’ contracts limit the Sixers’ options at the moment. An Embiid supermax would narrow the possibilities even further down the line. There’d be little margin for error in building the rest of the roster, and the Sixers would need to nail moves like brilliant veteran minimum and taxpayer mid-level exception signings.
The essential truth for the Sixers, however, is Embiid is far too good not to ensure he’s in Philadelphia for the long term.