It was always a question of “when” rather than “if” whenever the discussion on the Philadelphia 76ers offering Joel Embiid the supermax came around.
After all, the 27-year-old center has become the face of their franchise seven seasons after they selected him third overall in the NBA Draft. Embiid has emerged as a potential NBA Most Valuable Player, finishing second to Nikola Jokic in this year’s voting, and has consistently displayed a tantalizing skillset that has established him as a generational cornerstone.
Philadelphia has not had a center of this caliber since three-time NBA MVP Moses Malone suited up for them in the 1980s, so it was no surprise when the question was finally answered earlier this week. The Sixers and their four-time All-Star big man agreed to a four-year, $196 million supermax extension which will begin in the ‘23-’24 season.
Embiid’s journey to this massive contract has been nothing short of a fairytale so far.
Born in Cameroon, he grew up playing football before his height paved the way for him to switch to basketball at the age of 15. He was discovered a year later at former NBA player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s basketball camp, where 2019 NBA Champion Pascal Siakam was also scouted a few years later, and he eventually finished his high school studies in the United States.
He was heavily recruited by several universities before committing to Kansas where he flashed his potential before suffering a stress fracture that cut his lone college year short. Embiid was touted as a possible number one overall pick, but the injury caused him to slide to third behind Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker.
The concerns regarding his injury turned out to be valid, as he sat out the first two years of his NBA career. He was rather lucky to be selected by a Sixers team that was in the middle of a notorious tank job led by former general manager Sam Hinkie. This allowed Philadelphia to be more patient with Embiid’s rehabilitation and it has paid bountiful dividends for them in the succeeding years.
Embiid and Jokic, who was selected in the second round with the 41st overall pick in their draft, have emerged as the best players of their class and would go 1-2 in any redraft. Last season, Embiid averaged 28.5 points on 51-38-86 shooting splits–all of which were career-highs–together with 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.4 blocks. His scoring average was the highest by any center since Shaquille O’Neal in the ‘00-’01 season which is further proof of the dominant force that he has become.
The 7’0, 280 pound center continues to miss games here and there, though he has proven to be more durable than most expected following his two missed seasons to begin his career. This has emboldened Philadelphia to tie their fortunes for most of this decade to Embiid.
This removes at least one giant question mark from their future and the other major one that remains is the future of Ben Simmons with the team following a humiliating showing in the recently concluded playoffs.
The two players can actually coexist on the floor as long as they are flanked by shooters, as proven through the years, but Embiid’s best form may be unlocked by playing with a point guard who can consistently hit perimeter shots and free throws. The mere prospect of Embiid becoming even better and more effective is frightening to the rest of the league and may motivate Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey to make a move sooner rather than later.
The Portland Trailblazers have emerged as a possible destination for Simmons and a pairing of Embiid and Damian Lillard will instantly transform the Sixers into title contenders. However, Portland is understandably reluctant on parting with their superstar guard and this duo remains hypothetical in the meantime.
Morey has proven to be one of the best in the business at constructing superstar-centric trades though, as shown during his tenure with the Houston Rockets, so this will be an interesting situation to monitor.
The security of having Embiid locked in lets Philadelphia shift to a more aggressive stance and trade away their draft picks for veteran players to flank him. The reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks made similar moves that paid off handsomely following Giannis Antetokounmpo signing a similar extension, trading for Jrue Holiday last offseason which proved to be the last piece of the puzzle in their run to the NBA title a few weeks ago.
The Sixers, who last won the NBA Championship in 1983, hope to achieve the same feat with Embiid. He has made a commitment to this team and will be under contract with them until at least 2027. Now, it is time for them to repay his trust and put together a team that can help him bring Philadelphia back to the top of the league. After all, the chance of having a player of Embiid’s talents does not come around so often.