The most pressing question facing the 76ers remains unresolved, but they have confirmed an equally vital, franchise-defining answer: Philadelphia’s fate will rest with Joel Embiid, for as long as possible, no matter the cost.
Embiid and the Sixers have renewed their vows, with the team announcing they’ve come to terms on a multiyear contract extension that, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, is the richest one available: a four-year, $196 million supermax deal. Embiid still has two years remaining on his current contract, the five-year rookie-scale max that he signed back in 2017. The re-up will kick in after that, meaning the new agreement will keep the prospect who became “the Process” in the City of Brotherly Love through at least the end of the 2025-26 season. (Embiid will reportedly hold a $54.22 million player option for the ’26-’27 campaign.)
It seems like ancient history now, but it’s worth remembering that there was no small amount of balking back when Embiid inked his first nine-figure deal. After all, the no. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA draft had missed all of what should have been his first two pro seasons with foot injuries, and was limited by a meniscus tear to just 31 games in his twice-deferred rookie season. Making a long-term, top-dollar commitment to a player who’d logged all of 786 professional minutes seemed awfully dicey; that’s why then-Sixers personnel chief Bryan Colangelo built various injury-related protections into Embiid’s first max, aiming to ensure that the franchise wouldn’t be over a barrel should recurring foot and back injuries keep Embiid from getting on the court to fulfill his skyscraping promise.
Injuries have remained a concern over the years: Embiid has missed 17 or more games in each of the past four seasons, and you can scarcely blame the entire city for holding its collective breath every time the big fella hits the deck after a thunderous dunk or a titanic block. By and large, though, he has proved to be precisely as generational and transformative a talent as even his most ardent predraft backers could have imagined. He has established himself as Philadelphia’s perennial bellwether: When he’s on the floor, the Sixers have the point differential and profile of a championship contender, and when he’s not, they crater.
Some of that is due to a persistent struggle for multiple iterations of Philly’s front office to find consistent, high-quality backup centers to anchor second units whose effectiveness wouldn’t pale in comparison to starting lineups that have often ranked among the NBA’s best. (Who among us can forget how summarily the Sixers imploded against Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals whenever Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson, or Jonah Bolden checked in, or the claustrophobic frustration of the Al Horford experiment?) A lot of it, though, stems from the fact that there’s really no replacing, replicating, or even approximating Embiid: a player who last season was the most devastating individual two-way force in the league, led Philly to the no. 1 seed in the East, and finished second in MVP voting (and who very well might have beaten Nikola Jokic for that honor had he not missed 21 games and logged 903 fewer minutes than the Nuggets superstar).
Add it all up, and Embiid responded to his first big-money deal by ripping off four straight All-Star appearances, three All-NBA selections, and three All-Defensive nods. He’s averaged 25.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game on .597 true shooting over the past four seasons, leading the Sixers to a 171-92 record (.650 winning percentage) in games he’s appeared in and to Philly’s first string of four consecutive postseason appearances since the Iverson era. (And, by the way, to within one win of the Sixers’ first conference finals berth in 20 years, despite playing with a torn meniscus.)
He has developed into one of the most skilled, versatile, and punishing players in the world. That rise earned Embiid not only a second nine-figure payday, but, this time, a fully guaranteed one—no injury qualifiers, no games-played incentives, just the full boat. The new deal guarantees Embiid more than $261 million over the next six years, and makes him only the eighth player in the NBA to sign a supermax extension—and also the second to sign the supermax this summer, joining Stephen Curry, who tacked four more years and an additional $215 million on to his existing deal in Golden State.
Curry’s decision to re-up after a breathtaking All-NBA season that ended just short of the postseason has been cast by some observers as a vote of confidence in the Warriors’ plan to balance a bid for championship contention behind its aging dynastic core with the desire to build a bridge to what’s next through recent draftees James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody. Whatever concerns persist about how Bob Myers and Co. are juggling the present and future, Curry’s choice to commit projects calm about both the Dubs’ chances of competing now and the ongoing construction project.
The Sixers have their own roster-building quandary to address; it’s 6-foot-11, Australian, was last seen playing hot potato in the final minutes of a Game 7, and yet reportedly continues to boast the price tag of a “James Harden–like” package. But as the Ben Simmons saga continues to simmer, Embiid’s decision to commit for as long as possible, like Curry’s, offers a vote of confidence that doubles as a counterbalancing certainty: Even amid the destabilizing doubt surrounding what comes next for Simmons, there’s reason to believe in what Philly can build, because it will continue to be built around Embiid.
Securing Embiid for the next half-decade gives Daryl Morey more bites at the apple, more chances to tinker and tailor (and, if necessary, soldier and spy) the Sixers’ roster toward his vision of what the optimal version of an Embiid-centered championship contender might look like. It lets the rest of the league—perhaps free agents to be, perhaps stars beginning to sour on their surroundings—know that Embiid is not going anywhere, and, as a result, Philadelphia will still have the chance to remain near the top of an Eastern Conference pecking order that also features the defending champion Bucks and 2022 title-favorite Nets.
Whether Morey, Embiid, Doc Rivers, and Co. can find a formula good enough to topple the constellation of stars in Brooklyn, overwhelm Giannis Antetokounmpo in full bloom, and exorcise the postseason demons that have plagued Philadelphia in recent years remains to be seen. But Embiid’s presence alone creates the possibility that it can; it, by itself, makes the Sixers matter. The price of championship-caliber relevance, it turns out, is as much money as the collective bargaining agreement allows you to pay, for as long as it allows you to pay it. And if Embiid keeps playing like he did last season, it’ll be worth every last penny.