While Sixers fans everywhere are basking in the glory of The Process, it would be foolish to forget that the man with that very nickname could reach Restricted Free Agency next summer. Joel “The Process” Embiid was a revelation for the 76ers during his rookie season. Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.1 assists per game, all while being restricted to 25 minutes per night. If Embiid did not have a lengthy history of injuries he would be a shoo-in for a max contract. As everyone knows, however, health has been the biggest question mark for Embiid during his young career. A back injury prevented him from playing in the NCAA Tournament during his lone year at Kansas, and a recurring foot injury held him out of NBA action for the first two years of his professional career. This past year, it was starting to look like Embiid had turned the corner, but then he suffered a partial meniscus tear, which held him out for the remainder of the season.
Looking ahead to next season, it is fair to ask, what does Embiid need to do to warrant a max contract offer (assuming he is not extended before the season)? Before getting into his production, how many games does Embiid need to play to prove that he can be a reliable starter? 55 games seems like a reasonable number for Embiid. It is well over half the season, and Embiid will certainly see his usage rate decline with Fultz, Simmons, and Redick entering the starting lineup. It should be noted that the NBA is looking to reduce the number of back to back games teams will have to play. There is no doubt that Embiid will produce enough to earn a max contract, but don’t be shocked to see a slight dip in his numbers. While his minutes should go up, it would not be surprising if his points per game go down due to the infusion of talent to Philadelphia’s roster. Embiid should be able to maintain or increase his rebounding and it would be nice to see an improvement in his passing and court vision. Either way, his production on the court will most likely not be the cause for concern.
If Embiid does not play enough games to warrant a big contract extension from the 76ers, he will reach restricted free agency. If this happens, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. The Sixers will still want to keep him, but will a big enough offer from a rebuilding team flush with cap space scare the 76ers from matching the contract? It’s possible, especially if Embiid fails to reach the 45 game threshold. This scenario raises the question, which teams will have enough cap space to offer such a big contract to Embiid? The simple answer is not many. There are a number of teams that are already at or near the luxury tax, and several teams will have key free agents they will need to re-sign next summer before looking to add to their roster.
The widespread lack of cap space around the league leaves only a small handful of teams that may have the ability to throw a big contract in Embiid’s direction. One team that comes to mind is the Chicago Bulls. What do they have to lose? They are lacking in the department of young talent, and could potentially be willing to use a big chunk of cap space on Embiid. Another team that has thrown big money at restricted free agents is the Brooklyn Nets. In fact, teams have become frustrated with Brooklyn for offering bit contracts to players while, at the same time, knowing that they have no chance to land these free agents. If Brooklyn can unload some of the albatross contracts they have absorbed in their quest for draft picks, they are a surefire candidate to offer a contract to Embiid. It is also possible that Brooklyn throws Embiid a contract that they know the Sixers will match, just to tie up Philadelphia’s cap space. Other than that, you would be hard pressed to find teams in the right situation to offer a contract to Embiid. Teams such as Sacramento and Phoenix could potentially have enough cap space, but it is doubtful that either team would want such a big contract on the books at the stages of their respective rebuilds.
At the end of the day, it is very unlikely that Embiid will find himself on an opposing team’s roster in 2018. He probably could have returned to action after recovering from his meniscus tear this past season, and the Sixers certainly do not want to lose him without getting something substantial in return. Sixers fans should hope that Embiid is able to play in enough games to make this article a moot point.
“Photo: Bill Streicher- USA Today Sports”