Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has played in just 31 games over three NBA seasons but he has landed a big-money contract that typically goes to a star player.
The promising 23-year-old agreed to a five-year, $148 million deal with the 76ers, who publicly announced the agreement on Tuesday. The team didn’t confirm the financial package, which is the maximum allowed under the rookie wage scale and will reportedly grow by another $30 million should Embiid win MVP honors or receive All-NBA first, second or third-team recognition.
The deal is risky due to Embiid’s continual health issues since being selected as the third overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft. He missed his first two seasons with right foot woes and suffered a knee injury last season that ended his campaign after 31 games.
The 7-foot Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in the games he played and brought significant energy to the squad. He is now signed through the 2022-23 season and the team reportedly would receive salary-cap protection if Embiid suffers a significant injury.
“Joel Embiid is a transformative young talent that you rarely come across in our game,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. “Joel is only scratching the surface, but he has all the potential and promise to go down as one of the all-time greats to wear a Sixers jersey. Ownership’s willingness to extend this contract reflects our collective belief in Joel Embiid and a reinforced commitment to building a championship-level basketball program.”
Embiid scored 20 or more points in 19 of his 31 games last season, including a streak of 10 straight that was the longest by a rookie since Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers recorded 14 consecutive in 2011. He failed to reach double digits just once in 31 games.
He last played on Jan. 27, subsequently undergoing surgery to repair a torn left meniscus.
Embiid, a native of Cameroon, appreciates that the 76ers were always supportive as he dealt with the injury troubles before finally making it on the court last season.
“I’m so thrilled to be in this position,” Embiid said in a statement. “I want to thank ownership, management, the coaches and most of all the fans, for supporting me throughout this whole process. I love this city and I’m so, so, so, so excited to be spending my next five years here and hopefully the rest of my career, God willing. Trust ‘The Process.'”
The building process saw the 76ers go 28-54 last season after winning fewer than 20 games each of the previous three seasons.
Sixers coach Brett Brown saw a difference in his team during the time Embiid was available last season and sees plenty of upside.
“He has a chance to be great,” Brown said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. You know, when you look at his body of work — only playing 31 games, and really he’s only been playing basketball for six years, and he’s 23. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Forward Jahlil Okafor was among the happy teammates.
“He deserves it. I’m really happy for him. It wasn’t a surprise to me,” Okafor told the Philadelphia Daily News. “You’ve seen how great of a player he was, and he’s an even better person, so he deserves that. I’m just happy that it’s finally official.”
Said forward Robert Covington: “With him healthy, this team can be very special.”
Special is what the 76ers are counting for as they aim to end a five-season playoff drought.
“Since drafting Joel third overall in 2014, he has solidified himself as a pillar in this franchise and to this city,” 76ers managing general partner Josh Harris said in a statement. “We have all enjoyed watching the hard work he puts into his game and the commitment he has for our organization. We are excited to further build our foundation around his unique talent and leadership skills, and we look forward to the continued growth of Joel and our team.”