When the Philadelphia 76ers had the opportunity to sign Tyrese Maxey to an extension last offseason but didn't, the reaction of many fans in Philadelphia was, "Why the hell not?"

At surface level, the decision was an eyebrow-raiser, as Maxey had clearly established himself as one of the most promising, and hardest-working, young players in the entire league. But, while the decision was surprising at first glance, it was technically a financially sound one, and one rooted in preserving future financial flexibility.

By not extending Maxey at the time, the Sixers preserved cap space for next offseason when they could potentially create up two open max-salary slots. As it stands currently, Joel Embiid and Paul Reed are the only players on Philadelphia's roster who have salary on the books for the 2024-25 season.

The decision not to extend Maxey last summer in order to preserve salary cap space didn't mean that the organization was planning to prioritize other players over Maxey. Instead, it more likely meant that the team envisioned a future that included Embiid, one or two other elite-level players not currently on the roster, and Maxey, and the way to maximize that possibility was by delaying an extension.

But, while the decision was sound from a team-building perspective, it also meant that Maxey would have to wait a year to get a well-deserved payday, and that he'd have to continue to prove that he was worth the major looming financial investment that the Sixers were going to have to make in him in the meantime.

Over a month into the season, Maxey has indeed proved that he's worth every penny that the Sixers can potentially give him, and probably even more. For the first time in his young career, Maxey isn't operating in the shadow of another primary ballhandler, and he's thriving. He was given the keys to Philadelphia's offense this season, and he has taken his game to a whole new level with them in his pocket.

In addition to averaging a career-high 26.6 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor, Maxey has been killing it as the primary playmaker for Philadelphia. He's averaging 6.9 assists per performance -- a sizeable jump from his previous career high of 4.3. For a player with little experience as a lead guard at the professional level, Maxey has done a commendable job of creating his own offense while also generating opportunities for his teammates.

And despite the added ballhandling and playmaking responsibilities on his plate, Maxey is still doing an excellent job of taking care of the ball, as evidenced by the fact that he's averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game. Plus, no one plays more than him. Literally. He's leading the league in minutes per game this season (38.4).

Maxey has emerged as an ideal complement to Embiid, while establishing himself as one of the better guards in the Eastern Conference. He appears poised to make his first All-Star appearance as a result, and he's also right in the thick of the Most Improved Player conversation.

The 23-year-old has answered every question that was looming heading into the current campaign, and he has secured the bag for himself in the process.

Philadelphia will almost assuredly offer Maxey a maximum rookie-scale contract extension next summer, and if they don't, a host of other teams will. Keep in mind, the Sixers would have the opportunity to match any outside offers for Maxey given his status as a restricted free agent, but it should never even have to come to that -- he's cemented himself as a foundational piece, along with Embiid.

The Sixers will be able to offer Maxey a five-year deal in the $200 million range, and if he continues to play like he has up to this point in his career, they should be ready and eager to do so.

After making under $3 million last season, Maxey is making just $4.3 million this season. That's standard fare for the final year of a rookie deal for a player drafted outside of the lottery, but production-wise, he's being criminally underpaid. That's going to change next season, though. Maxey is making sure of that every time he steps on the court.


Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on X @therealmikekb.

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