The Sixers trust The Process to the tune of $196 million.
They have no choice.
If they hadn’t extended Joel Embiid’s contract, they would be admitting the failure of their teetering, interminable reconstruction plan as it enters its ninth year. They are pot-committed in the worst sort of way, and they had to raise the stakes.
So, they gave Embiid a super-max, four-year extension this week to remain the face and voice of the most controversial rebuild in sports history.
As soon as they shed Ben Simmons, their gun-shy non-guard, Embiid will be the final major connection to the slash-and-burn plan Sam Hinkie instituted in 2013, which he and five successors (Jerry Colangelo, briefly; Bryan Colangelo, infamously; Brett Brown, by default; Elton Brand, to some degree; and now Daryl Morey) have combined to bungle so far. Embiid stands as the last — and best — significant piece of The Process. As such, they could not afford to let him leave, for that would have rendered the last eight years meaningless. Now, he’ll be paid through the 2026-27 season, for better or for worse.
For better, most likely ... but not assuredly, despite the team’s bravado.
Sixers owner Josh Harris, in a statement announcing the deal, called Embiid “the definition of elite.” This isn’t quite accurate.
An “elite” player generally carries his team deep into the playoffs. Embiid has never made it past the second round. An “elite” player plays all the time. Embiid has, to date, missed more than half of the games for which he’s been paid. He might be elite when compared with other prized Process assets who have not flourished — Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz, and, of course, Simmons — but Embiid’s lack of durability diminishes his value compared with truly elite players.
The Sixers believe that will change. They believe, to a large degree, it already has changed.
This is Embiid’s reward for growing up. His payoff for being accountable. His payoff for holding Simmons accountable after the Hawks beat the Sixers in the playoffs, when Simmons’ refusal to shoot again cost the team their best chances to win.
It’s his payoff for proving that he can be effective when he’s hurting. A knee injury cost him Game 5 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Wizards, but he returned for all seven games against the Hawks, and he averaged 30.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 37.4 minutes.
It was heroic. Just ask him.
More than anything, this is Embiid’s payoff for playing hard, and playing hurt, and eating right, and getting sleep, and abandoning his silly beefs on social media. No more petulant tweeting, to the relief of Karl-Anthony Towns.
No more all-night video-game marathons. No more 5,000-calorie Chick-fil-A binges.
This is what happens when a magnificent talent abandons self-indulgence, sharpens his gifts, and transforms himself into a magnificent player. He gets paid magnificently.
So, good for him. Good for the 76ers. Good for the city of Philadelphia, which needs a hero like seldom before.
Former Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was too soft. Flyers captain Claude Giroux is too small. Phillies slugger Bryce Harper can’t do it alone.
Embiid can, kind of. It’s basketball, after all.
Embiid’s maturation seemed more likely after his public humiliation in 2019, when Hall of Fame players crushed Embiid during the seven-game second-round loss to Toronto. After Kawhi Leonard’s last-second, quadruple-doink shot sent the Sixers home, Embiid wept in the hallway of Scotiabank Arena. We thought he would grow up then.
The next year, when he became a dad, he did. Little Arthur Elijah De Paula Embiid might be the Sixers’ real MVP.
Whatever it takes.
What else does this mean?
This contract means that Morey, the big-name Sixers president, and Doc Rivers, the big-name coach, acknowledge that neither of them matters as much as big-time Joel Embiid. They’re cool with that; they’ve been genuflecting to Embiid since they arrived last fall.
When confronted with Embiid’s shortcomings, both point out that Embiid’s just 27. They note that, as a basketball latecomer who lost almost 2 1/2 years to injury — he got hurt at Kansas, too — Embiid has played about six years of organized basketball. They remain transfixed by Embiid’s remaining potential.
And this season proved his potential can be breathtaking. Not since Wilt Chamberlain have we seen such a combination of size, speed, agility, power, and defensive dominance, all amplified by a deft shooting touch.
Doc and Daryl, like Harris, are convinced that Embiid will continue to turn the corner that he began to turn this season; that he’ll grow ever slimmer, better-rested, and wisely nourished. They’re convinced that “The Process” will complete The Process.
They’re convinced to the tune of almost $200 million. That’s a hell of a gamble.
Of course, there’s a hell of a payoff.