Embiid’s injury history is the elephant in the room. He missed his first two NBA seasons after requiring two surgeries on his right foot. And he only played 31 games in his first season, tearing his meniscus. And since then, it has been a bumpy but consistent story: While Embiid is consistently dealing with nagging or plain unlucky injuries, he has avoided season-enders since 2017-18. He has been on the floor enough to rack up individual awards: four All-Star appearances, three times each on the All-NBA second team and All-Defense second team.
More importantly, Embiid has played enough to ensure that his game-changing abilities translate to wins. Despite not advancing far enough in the playoffs, the Sixers have been a top-3 seed and won a series on three separate occasions. But the individual awards are critical when thinking about Embiid’s motivations when it comes to this contract extension. When he’s healthy, Embiid is easily one of the best 15 players in the league. But as we saw in 2019-20, an average season from him combined with a disappointing year for his team means that he might not make an All-NBA team.
If he waited until next season, Embiid could’ve potentially added a fifth year to the extension. But he also would’ve been risking the ability to start that extension at 35 percent of the cap, which would’ve required him to meet one of the supermax designations in 2020-21 (an All-NBA team, most likely). So with Embiid coming off an All-NBA season and able to cash in on that extension, there was a bit of risk mitigation in locking in his future now.
For the Sixers, there is legitimate risk in extending Embiid into his early-30s considering his injury history. But there was also no realistic way around giving him this contract if they viewed him as part of their future. With the max contract structure, the very best players in the NBA are underpaid for the on-court value that they provide. If Embiid continues to play as he did in 2020-21 for even a few seasons into this deal, the agreement will be well worth it. The Sixers in theory could’ve held out but that also seemed impractical. Then they ran the risk of alienating their franchise player, just two years away from unrestricted free agency.
Bottom line: This is the cost of doing business with a star-level player, which Embiid has proven to be since he stepped onto the floor.