PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers have put their trust in Joel Embiid.
Philadelphia bet its future on Embiid, signing one of the more talented, yet injury-prone, players in the game to a league maximum contract extension. Embiid and the Sixers agreed on a $148 million, five-year extension and it could increase even more if the 7-foot centre reaches certain incentives.
The extension confirmed Tuesday starts with the 2018-19 season. He’ll make $6.1 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal.
Embiid tweeted a photo of himself early Tuesday with the caption, "The Process to be Continued……I LOVE YOU PHILADELPHIA 5MoreYears."
"I’m so thrilled to be in this position," Embiid said. "I want to thank ownership, management, the coaches and most of all the fans, for supporting me throughout this whole process. I love this city and I’m so, so, so, so excited to be spending my next five years here and hopefully the rest of my career, God willing. Trust ‘The Process."’
Embiid’s career has been riddled with injuries dating to his college career at Kansas and all three seasons with the Sixers. Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, played only 31 games last season and had minor surgery in March to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He has yet play a preseason game.
"He’s a difference maker," coach Brett Brown said Monday. "He has a chance to be great. There’s still lots of work to be done. When you look at his body of work … he’s really only been playing basketball for six years, he’s just scratching the surface."
The 23-year-old Embiid, a native of Cameroon, was only recently cleared to participate in 5-on-5 drills. But the Sixers must feel confident enough in his health to offer him the max deal.
Or worried enough to lose him down the line without striking a deal.
"Joel is only scratching the surface, but he has all the potential and promise to go down as one of the all-time greats to wear a Sixers jersey," team president Bryan Colangelo said. "Ownership’s willingness to extend this contract reflects our collective belief in Joel Embiid and a reinforced commitment to building a championship-level basketball program."
With his social media savvy and dominant offensive game, Embiid has become an instant fan favourite in Philadelphia. He’s recently been spotted at Eagles games cheering on winning kicks and been caught on tape by fans running the city streets and playing late-night tennis.
But his popularity hasn’t matched his production. The Sixers slapped him with minutes restrictions in his rookie season, even when he was healthy. The Sixers also held Embiid out for at least one game in back-to-back sets and his limited playing time was one reason he wasn’t a strong candidate to win Rookie of the Year. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds last season.
He helped the Sixers win eight of 10 games in one stretch in January, a stunning run for a team that won 10 games the previous season.
Embiid had 32 points and seven rebounds in a Jan. 27 game against Houston and hasn’t played or practiced since his he was hurt.
Embiid had adopted "The Process" as a nickname and was introduced as such as part of the pregame lineup festivities. Embiid waves his arms and exhorts fans to get louder as they chant "Trust the Process!"
The Sixers are counting on Embiid and No. 1 overall picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz to carry the team from the bottom of the league into an Eastern Conference playoff team.
The Sixers will be protected in the deal if Embiid continues to deal with injuries that have him more on track to become the next Greg Oden instead of the next Anthony Davis.
But the flashes of brilliance have convinced Colangelo and ownership that Embiid was worth the risk.
"In the time that he has been on the floor, we have seen him change completely the gym," Brown. "He does it with just his physical presence. He does it with a defensive mindset. And he does it with an offensive target that’s different than anything else we have."
He didn’t pick up a basketball until a few years ago, when a friend informed him that very few 7-footers succeed in soccer. A few months later, Embiid was lured to a basketball camp in the capital of Yaounde run by NBA veteran Luc Mbah a Moute, one of just two players from Cameroon to have played in the NBA.
Mbah a Moute persuaded Embiid’s parents to let him move 6,000 miles to Florida, and helped enrol him at Montverde Academy, one of the best high school programs in the country.
He played just 28 games in his lone season at Kansas and 31 in three years with the Sixers — 59 games that matter in four years, worth $148 million and counting.