All-Star center Joel Embiid agreed to a max contract extension with the 76ers this week that will keep the affable big man in Philadelphia through 2026, at least. Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the most dominant players in the entire NBA, and he came in second in MVP voting behind Nuggets center Nikola Jokic last season. With the former lottery pick now locked up for the foreseeable future, the Sixers will continue to try to build a championship team around Embiid.
Here's a look at what his new contract extension means for the Sixers moving forward.
1. Philadelphia's championship window will remain open
As long as Embiid is healthy and continues to play at -- or near -- the level that he did last season, the Sixers will continue to be in the conversation in the Eastern Conference. He's that good. Through the first 260 games of his career, Embiid has averaged more points per 36 minutes (29.3) than any other player in NBA history, and he boasts one of the most diverse skill sets that the league has seen.
Embiid is currently 27 years old, and he's now under contract with the Sixers for the next six years -- that's likely the bulk of his prime playing days, which means that Philadelphia has until then to build a title team around the star center. It's up to the front office to maximize the rest of Embiid's prime. Players like him don't come around every day.
The Sixers have been unable to construct a title team around Embiid to this point, but not because of a lack of effort. The team has made a multitude of moves over the past several seasons in an effort to find the right puzzle pieces to fit in around Embiid, but that puzzle still appears to be a work in progress. Nonetheless, the Sixers have made the conference semifinals in three of the past four seasons, and twice they have stretched the series to seven games. Obviously, they'll need to be better moving forward if the team is going to make its first conference finals appearance since 2001, but locking Embiid up for the next half-decade is a solid start.
2. Trio of Embiid, Simmons, Harris locked up for the next three seasons
Philadelphia's trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris is now locked up through 2024, as all three players are under contract for the next three seasons, at least. Tobias Harris still has three years remaining on the five-year, $180 million deal that he signed with the Sixers in 2019, while Simmons still has four years left on the five-year, $170 million extension he inked during the same summer as Harris' signing. Neither deal includes a player option. Embiid is now under contract with the Sixers for the next five seasons at least, six at the most -- the final year of his new extension includes a player option.
Obviously, a trade is possible well before '24, potentially even likely given all of the speculation surrounding Simmons' future in Philadelphia following his underwhelming performance in the postseason. However, until one is made, it will continue to be largely up to Embiid, Simmons and Harris to push the Sixers as far as they can go, as those three players take up a huge chunk of Philadelphia's cap space moving forward.
During the 2021-22 season, those three players will combine to make over $98 million. That number will exceed $106 million the following season. The NBA has set the salary cap at $112 million and $119 million for those two seasons, respectively. So, Philadelphia's ability to upgrade the roster around Embiid, Simmons and Harris will continue to be limited. This means that those guys are going to have to do the heavy lifting if Philadelphia is [finally] going to reach its lofty potential as a team.
3. Shooting and floor-spacing will continue to be at a premium for Philly
Virtually any time that a team is built around a dominant big man, especially in today's NBA, it's necessary for that team to surround the said player with shooting. The Sixers are no exception here. Embiid needs to play with guys that can create space for him to operate in the post. If defenders respect the shot-making ability of the perimeter players around Embiid, it makes it much harder for them to sag off of their assignments and help down on Embiid. Plus, he needs guys around him that can connect on catch-and-shoot opportunities, as Embiid generates a lot of those for his teammates due to the fact that he's consistently double-teamed when he receives the ball in post position. This obviously isn't lost on Philadelphia's front office.
From JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli to Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, and Seth Curry, the Sixers have made it a priority to curate rosters replete with floor-spacers around Embiid and they will need to continue to do so. It's not a coincidence that Embiid had his best season last year after the team replaced clunky fits Al Horford and Josh Richardson in the starting lineup with elite shooters in Curry and Green, or that the team jumped from sixth to first in the Eastern Conference standings after those changes were made. Plus, as long as Simmons remains on the roster, floor-spacing becomes even more important for Philly, given the fact that he hasn't yet developed into a shooting threat himself.
4. Backup center will continue to be an important role for the Sixers
Embiid is a complete player when he's on the floor. He can get it done on both ends of the court, he can score from the paint and from the perimeter, and he's efficient. If there's one knock about what Embiid brings to a team, it's his availability. As dominant as Embiid is, he has a serious history when it comes to injury issues and, as such, the Sixers like to err on the side of caution when it comes to their prized big man. Embiid has never averaged more than 33.7 minutes per game over the span of a season -- he averaged 31.1 last season -- and he has also never appeared in more than 64 games in a season. In other words, even with Embiid, the Sixers have a lot of minutes available at the center spot. As such, the backup center spot has become an extremely important position for the team.
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Whoever occupies that role ends up seeing pretty major minutes, and thus needs to be a productive player. The Sixers learned this the hard way by trying to fill the role with guys like Amir Johnson and Kyle O'Quinn in the past, then seeing the team's production on both ends drop off of a cliff when those guys were in. That's the reason the team shelled out a four-year, $109 million deal for Al Horford in 2019. They viewed him as a guy that could play alongside Embiid for stretches, and also fill in at the center spot when Embiid was out.
Horford proved to be an ill fit in Philadelphia, but the rationale behind his signing was still sound -- the Sixers need a player that they can trust behind their star center. They went with Dwight Howard last season, and Andre Drummond will fill the role during the '21-22 campaign. Both are former All-Stars and still capable of productive play for stretches. Also, both were signed on the [relatively] cheap, which is ideal since the Sixers can't afford to spend too much on a second center. Drummond only signed for a single season, so the backup center spot will have to be filled again next summer, and as long as Embiid is the centerpiece of the team, it will remain an extremely important position for Philadelphia.