Prior to the 2012-2013 NBA season, Steph Curry signed a 4-year, $44 million contract extension. Now arguably the most valuable contract in NBA league history from a dollars per holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw moments perspective, NBA fans are privy to exactly how much impact the deal has had on the league landscape. After consecutive Warriors’ seasons that included an NBA finals victory and the crown for the greatest regular season team to ever grace an NBA court, the
burglary contract of Curry allowed the Warriors to get even better. Four years later, Curry’s extension can be viewed as the most team-friendly deal this century. (Maybe ever. I’m too busy checking for WojBombs 3 hours from NBA free agency to figure that out.) How team-friendly is the deal? Let’s put it into some perspective: Evan Turner, Marvin Williams, Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah – that’s just a few of the stiffs that made more money than Steph Curry this past season.
But we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and the extension wasn’t always viewed through a favorable lens: Curry ankles were more fragile than high school freshmen’s self-esteem, and the extension was widely criticized as being an unnecessary risk on a guy who can’t stay on the court. What seems like an obvious bargain today, was critically panned as misguided. Which leads me to the Philadelphia 76ers and their unicorn, Joel Embiid.
According to HoopsHype.com, The Philadelphia 76ers have only $36,547,717 (that could change in a couple hours) committed to player salaries for the 2017/2018 – the lowest total in the league by $2 million. For the 2018/2019 season, the Sixers are obligated to only $8,575,916 in player salaries – easily the lowest in the league. And for the 2019/2020 season, the Sixers owe players all of – hold your breath – ZERO dollars in salary. Tied (with 5 other squads) for, you guessed it – the lowest in the league. To say the Sixers have cap flexibility over the coming seasons is an understatement. The Sixers’ are currently committed to salary the same way that the Washington Redskins are currently committed to the idea of Kirk Cousins* being the quarterback of their future. With that being said, it is time for the Sixers to start planning financially for the core of this franchise. That starts with extending their franchise altering star this offseason: Joel Embiid. (And Robert Covington while they’re at it, but more on that in a later post.)
The Steph Curry extension is a great case study for the potential ramifications of a Joel Embiid extension. While most were weary of Curry’s ability to stay healthy long enough to make an extension bear some fruit, the Warriors were able to calculate the risk and gamble on Curry. The result for the Warriors? 2 NBA championships with 3 finals appearances, a back-to-back MVP and continued cap flexibility with the ability to add transcendent talent in free agency over the life of the contract. Even if Steph weren’t able to remain healthy all 4 of those years, and missed significant time during one of them, the contract would have been validated a) because any number of finals appearances, being 1 or 3, is worth paying a player $11-$12 million a year and b) because the contract would not have doomed the Warriors financially had Steph gotten hurt.
Similar to Curry, Embiid is a generational talent (which, in comparison, actually was not known of Curry at the time of his extension) who has a past littered with injury history; however, Embiid’s is more significant. So of course, there is risk in extending Embiid, especially with Embiid still under contract for another season. But really how much risk?
Let’s start with the years: four. A 4-year extension would lock Embiid up as a Sixer through 2021-2022 season, as it would kick in following the end of next season, after JoJo’s rookie deal expires. 2022 seems distant, maybe even far enough along that I would actually have a job utilizing my Communications degree by the time Embiid’s extension would end. And I hate to exhaust you with yet another reference to Embiid’s games played, as national pundits continue to rain on the Process Parade, but it’s a big commitment to someone who has only logged 31 games in 3 seasons – although they were the greatest 31 games I’ve enjoyed as a Sixers’ fan since the 2012 NBA playoffs. So I understand the flashing CAUTION lights approaching me. But it’s the wrong approach. If Embiid suffers yet another injury next season, odds are the Sixers will still retain him. “If you think they’ll extend him regardless, why not wait to see if he can stay healthy this year?” Because the flipside is even riskier, in my humble opinion.
If Embiid is healthy, and surrounded by actual talent instead of a revolving door of trashcans wearing NBA uniforms, he will thrive. And the Sixers will lose a ton of leverage in the financial department. An extension for The Process incarnate could max out around ~$25 million, and after a healthy season, bet your ass Embiid would demand something in that neighborhood. But now? Now Embiid would have to settle for that Steph Curry discount, something south of $20 million. This would grant the Sixers tremendous cap flexibility moving forward. The kind of flexibility that allows a team on the cusp of greatness to add the final piece to a championship contender.
The NBA salary cap has skyrocketed in recent years. Yes, next season’s cap won’t grow nearly as much as predicted, thanks to the Warriors shaving the amount of playoff games down significantly. But the cap increases almost every single year, and as the NBA seems to be the only league that has mastered staying touch with changing technology and a young audience, it stands to reason the cap will continue to grow. As the cap grows, an Embiid extension gets even more valuable each season. That being said, a yearly salary of, say, $18 million for someone as talented as Embiid could be as big a bargain as Curry’s contract.
We know Embiid is the key to the Sixers becoming a threat to win a championship. His skill on both ends of the floor is the kind of stuff that takes franchises to new levels. Without Embiid, the Sixers look a lot less promising. The value Joel Embiid brings to this team makes him worth an extension, collosal injury risk withstanding. Do the right thing, Bryan.
*Yes, I already made my point, and didn’t need to take a shot at Kirk Cousins. But hey, it was there for the taking.