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NBA AM: The 76ers Had To Take The Risk

On Joel Embiid, the Sixers took a $148 million risk. It was either that, or risk losing control.

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There Is Always Risk

Yesterday, the Philadelphia 76ers reached agreement on a $148 million contract extension with center Joel Embiid. The deal is a designated rookie deal which means if he meets certain criteria (Named to an All-NBA first, second or third-team, or named MVP) it could balloon to about $178 million.

On the surface, it seems like an astronomical number for a player that’s logged just 31 games in three NBA seasons. However, there are things the Sixers know, mainly because they are with him every day. They know his work ethic, where he is at health-wise and more importantly, how important he is to the future of the team.

Is there a risk? Absolutely. But there is always a risk.

The Sixers, however, didn’t just dump the Brinks truck on Embiid’s doorstep. Word in NBA circles is the Sixers negotiated a lot of elaborate protections for the franchise while also ending the discussion on how much to pay Embiid.

Sources close to the situation this summer said Embiid’s camp was ready to test the free agent market if the Sixers did not agree to a max-level deal. The team never wavered on the idea of keeping Embiid, even at a major contract number, but they were not reckless either.

The challenge every team faces in negotiating new contracts with young players is how to value them. The New York Knicks took a tremendous amount of heat over their $71 million deal to Tim Hardaway, Jr. Their stance was they were signing a starting two-guard, they looked at what other starting-level shooting guards were paid and crafted an offer that would not only win the day (Hardaway was a restricted free agent), but one that also reflected that they were willing to risk a little to land what they believed is a high-level starter.

Time will tell if the Knicks are right on Hardaway.

For the Sixers, they had to decide what a franchise player was worth—even one with Embiid’s injury history. Is there any doubt that if Embiid plays this season as well as he did for 31 games last season that one of the eight to 10 NBA teams with a projected max salary slot wouldn’t have put a max offer on the table? Equally, the Sixers will still have more than $40 million in possible cap space; they have nothing but cap space.

Embiid has become the poster child for the Sixers. He is The Process. Could the Sixers, namely team president Bryan Colangelo have survived if Embiid turned on the team? There was no scenario in which Embiid was going to be anywhere but Philadelphia next season. The risk in waiting wouldn’t have been whether he got an offer, because the team could have matched it. The fear and risk for the Sixers was Embiid getting a max offer that did not have the injury protections they were able to negotiate by doing a deal earlier than necessary. Had the Sixers let the market dictate terms, they may have had to match a deal that wasn’t nearly as franchise-friendly as this deal.

Sure, there is a risk, but the risk could have gotten worse if they let the decision get to a team trying to craft a deal the Sixers wouldn’t match.

It’s fairly rare that a team can ink a deal with absolutely no risk, but when you think about Embiid and where he could be as a player, it’s a risk worth taking, especially for a franchise that’s been selling “Trust the Process” for more than six years.

At least the Sixers put some of their money where their mouth is.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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