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The Philadelphia 76ers have fully invested in The Process by reportedly agreeing to a five-year, maximum extension with 23-year old center Joel Embiid. Per ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Embiid will sign a designated rookie scale extension with a catch: Only a portion of the salary will be guaranteed.
Based on the NBA‘s current salary cap projection of $101 million for the 2017-18 season, Embiid will be eligible to earn $25.3 million next season for a total of $146.5 million.
If he’s named the 2017-18 most valuable player, lands on one of the All-NBA teams or wins Defensive Player of the Year, Embiid’s salary would jump to $175.7 million over five years as a super-max extension starting at $30.3 million.
The actual figures won’t be locked in until next July, when the league officially sets the salary cap. Meanwhile, once the Sixers finalize Embiid’s contract, the details will be available to each NBA franchise. Multiple executives told Bleacher Report that they are eager to see the language in the agreement.
Exactly how much is guaranteed will clarify how far out on a limb Philadelphia is actually going. One executive called the extension “inevitable,” noting that both sides have the potential to “hit it out of the park,” while the Sixers appear to have maintained some ability to “cut bait.”
Even with partial guarantees, Philadelphia is paying out a hefty salary to a player who has battled back, foot and knee injuries dating back to his one year at Kansas. Embiid has played in just 31 NBA games since he was drafted third in 2014.
But when he has taken the court, Embiid has been electric, averaging 20.2 points with 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes per game.
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Other front offices are trying to understand the 76ers’ decision to commit this early to Embiid. “Usually when you sign [a player] early, it’s to get a hometown discount. I’m puzzled,” said one executive. “It’s very risky.”
The Sixers could have waited until July and chosen to offer the same salary to restricted free-agent Embiid after making him prove he could put together a strong, healthy season.
And in that scenario, Philadelphia would maintain the right to match any competing offers. Embiid would not be a flight risk.
“I don’t see the benefit,” another executive said. “What if he gets hurt in year one?” asked another executive. “I love him as a player, but 31 games over three years?”
But if Embiid has a healthy year, perhaps he doesn’t agree to a partially-guaranteed deal next summer. In that way, the Sixers did get a hometown discount in that they locked in the partial guarantee before Embiid could logically refuse it.
Teams and players confront risks and agree to compromise on nearly every deal. But this a clear win for Embiid, who locked in a significant payday. If he’s unable to complete the contract, he’s still partially compensated. But if he shows out, he may be able to cash in on the super max.
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Philadelphia gets some insurance—how much is unclear—in case their franchise player’s durability is a serious issue. If Embiid stays healthy, they have five additional years with one of the league’s most exciting young stars.
One NBA agent said there’s no real way to judge the deal without looking at the fine print.
On the down side, paying Embiid early will hurt the team’s spending by taking away almost $7 million in flexibility, but the 76ers should still have room for a max player in the $30 million range.
Even unsigned, Embiid’s rights still would have taken up $18.3 million of Philadelphia’s room. If he qualifies for the super max, the Sixers would still have almost $27 million to spend.
Those figures can rise and fall depending on which expiring deals the Sixers choose to keep, like those of J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson and Robert Covington. The team also has decisions to make on options for Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson, Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot next year.
It’s too early to say where Philadelphia fits in the Eastern Conference, but if the Embiid gamble pays off, the Sixers may be a playoff team this year and for many seasons to come.
Other Possible Rookie-Scale Extensions
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The deadline for former first-round picks to sign rookie-scale extensions is Oct. 16.
The Phoenix Suns already inked T.J. Warren to a four-year, incentivized deal worth $50 million.
The following players are also eligible: Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets), Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers), Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks), Doug McDermott (New York Knicks), Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic), Elfrid Payton (Orlando), Nik Stauskas (Philadelphia), Noah Vonleh (Portland Trail Blazers), Jusuf Nurkic (Portland), Shabazz Napier (Portland), Kyle Anderson (San Antonio Spurs), Lucas Nogueira (Toronto Raptors), Bruno Caboclo (Toronto), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz) and Rodney Hood (Utah).
The Lakers seem likely to wait on Randle, prioritizing 2018 cap room over locking down the power forward.
Expect most to play the waiting game through restricted free agency next July.