Report: Joel Embiid's max contract extension contains numerous escape hatches for Sixers

Joel Embiid has many, many reasons to smile after agreeing to a five-year maximum contract extension. (Getty)
Joel Embiid has many, many reasons to smile after agreeing to a five-year maximum contract extension. (Getty)

Until the specifics of Joel Embiid‘s five-year contract extension became public, it would be impossible to fully assess the risk that the Philadelphia 76ers were taking on by making a multi-year maximum-salaried commitment to the talented big man. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks reported details of Embiid’s complex extension on Tuesday evening, and while it isn’t iron clad, it could limit Philadelphia’s financial liability should Embiid suffer recurrences of the season-ending lower body and back injuries that have hampered his NBA career.

If you include his freshman year at Kansas, Embiid hasn’t finished a season healthy in his past four seasons of basketball. For a 23-year-old big man, that is extremely concerning, and the Sixers worked to take precautions to protect themselves, according to ESPN:

Here’s how a perfect storm of calamity would have to unfold for Embiid to earn any less than the full $146.5 million: Across each of the final four seasons of the extension, ending with the 2022-23 season, the 76ers could waive Embiid for a financial benefit if he’s lost because of a contractually agreed-upon injury that causes him to miss 25 or more regular-season games and if he plays fewer than 1,650 minutes, league sources said.

Specific injuries are laid out in the contract and include only past problem areas with Embiid’s feet and back, sources said. Embiid has to miss 25 or more regular-season games because of injuries to those areas, and play fewer than 1,650 minutes, for Philadelphia to have the option of releasing him for cost savings.

There is no full-fledged foolproof safeguard as Embiid embarks on an all-important second (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) season with the Sixers. At the earliest, Philadelphia could waive Embiid after the 2018-19 season, but over half of the deal would be guaranteed, according to Woj and Marks:

If Embiid met that narrow criteria and the Sixers decided to waive him after the 2018-19 season, he would receive $84.2 million of his full contract; after the 2019-20 season, $98.2 million; after the 2020-21 season, $113.3 million; and after the 2021-22 season, $129.4 million.

It also doesn’t guarantee an end to the minutes restrictions that have frustrated fans and Embiid alike.

The 35-page contract would reportedly eliminate the Sixers’ escape clause if Embiid played a minimum of 1,650 regular season minutes for three consecutive seasons, or three out of the next four seasons. Hypothetically, Embiid could miss the 1,650-minute benchmark in one of the next four seasons, and still have the final two years of his five-year extension guaranteed.

Given the nature of the protections, the fact that only the specific foot and back injuries can trigger the Sixers’ escape hatches, and the likelihood that it would take something downright apocalyptic to make general manager Bryan Colangelo want to waive the franchise’s hoped-for focal point, the new information suggests that it’s pretty likely the 76ers will wind up paying the full five-year freight on Embiid’s deal. That said: the note that Embiid can only trigger the “super-max” extension that would pay him 30 percent of the salary cap by being named to the All-NBA First Team or winning Most Valuable Player honors this year, in 2017-18, also makes it much more likely that the full freight is $146.5 million over five years, rather than the “super-max” $176 million.

The complex structure and the inclusion of the potential for Philly to get out early in case of specific injury also explain why the Sixers were so quick to offer Embiid an extension now rather than wait and see if he could hold up for an entire season, then offer this contract to Embiid during his restricted free agency period. Rather than allow another franchise to swoop in and dictate the terms of his next deal, the Sixers took the initiative a year early to ensure they got at least some coverage in case of catastrophe.

Now comes the hard part. While the bevy of injury provisions are all savvy contractual minutiae, the entire purpose of “The Process” was to construct a team capable of eventually competing for an NBA title. Embiid is the centerpiece. If Embiid is physically unable to fulfill his obligations, there is no amount of monetary relief that will relieve the queasy feeling in Philadelphia.

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