Betting on the Big | Embiid’s Max Extension

Updated: August 20, 2021
Joel Embiid

The pride of Philadelphia and runner-up to this year’s MVP selection, Joel Embiid opted to sign his super-max extension at its earliest availability. The 4-year extension takes the 7-footer signed through the 2026-27 season and a total owed price tag of 261 million dollars. It has been widely publicized Joel represented himself in negotiations since he parted ways with his agent a year before keeping the extra cash for him and his family. The deal is fully guaranteed with the final year being a player option. In Embiid’s previous contract, it was riddled with a variety of provisions due to his extensive injury history. This new supermax has no such clauses and is fully guaranteed whether he’s on the floor or the sidelines.

When healthy, Embiid is arguably the best player in a series regardless of his opponents. It is a category that is shared with only a handful of individuals in this league and is even more prestigious than the frequently tossed around “top 10” which often extends out to 14 or 15 players. The 7-foot-1 monster is not only borderline unstoppable when he gets deep penetration in the paint, but he may also be the most impactful defensive weapon in the NBA. At 27 years old, from what we have seen the last two years, it is hard to imagine that Joel won’t be in the discussion for defensive player of the year and MVP for the next handful of years.

And yet, it is quite plausible and would be of no surprise to anyone covering the league if this Super-Max transformed into a John Wall contract overnight. It is an interesting symptom of this player-empowerment era and the overwhelming value of these rare commodities of pure top-tier talents. Even if a player is clearly branded with the injury-prone stamp on the back of his jersey, he not only will get max money, he will set the terms of duration of his contract. The reason for this being, if Embiid hit free agency, regardless of his current health, at least a handful of teams would be scrambling in attempts to create the cap room or sign and trade to bring the two-way giant to fill their franchise frontcourt.

It is a similar situation to the recent max extension given out by the Los Angeles Clippers to two-time Final’s MVP Kawhi Leonard. Even with his current ACL issues and constant lower-body injuries, it was Kawhi who dictated the terms of his second contract with the Clippers. If he would’ve hit free agency, he presumably would’ve been able to force a sign and trade to any of the other 28 teams (excluding San Antonio). This is even with Leonard missing the last series and half in the playoffs and demanding load-management built into his contracts all the way back to the 2019 season with Toronto. He plays no back-to-backs and takes a game off a week just to preserve his worn-down legs.

There is a difference though in the equation between these two recent max extensions, and the interesting element in the equation is the expectations as somewhat inverted from the way they should be. Joel is only 27 years old and hasn’t had any serious injuries since his early years in the league. Kawhi on the other hand is already 30 and has just had an ACL surgery and is expected to miss the majority of the regular season. However, we have seen what Kawhi looks at 80%, and although defensively he is no longer the wing on-ball serpent that had Miami-Bron grimacing, he still is one of the most dominating 4th quarter scoring weapons on the planet.

Kawhi, with his known physical limitations, now tends to set his effort level on cruise control until the 4th when he digs into his robotic Iso-attack which there is no answer to. Joel on the other hand is a prideful player and wants to dictate not only the physicality of a game but its emotional current. He’s willing to flop to the floor and get dirty inside to impose his domination. Unfortunately for Philly fans, this effort level has too often produced a worn-out Embiid come 4th quarters. And it is fatigue where injury-prone players are laid to rest.

Although 27, the Sixers are attempting to maximize their title window immediately because tomorrow isn’t promised with this enormous 7-footer. The likelihood of another Kawhi injury is a more probable scenario, however, the type of injury and the impact it may make on one Joel Embiid may be catastrophic. Not one person around this league would be very surprised if two years down the road Embiid was deemed a Boogie Cousins 2.0. We have seen countless bigs fizzle out early. So as much as the voices around the league have deemed the supermax extension as a no-brainer move by Philly, they best believe they are a true contender for the title to merit the gamble.

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