Despite a disappointing offseason, Joel Embiid remains committed to the Sixers — for now
CAMDEN, N.J. -- $18,381,312.
That's the rough estimate of what the Sixers spent on this season's new contracts this summer. The biggest chunk of that money going to one player - the first year of Paul Reed's new contract that the Sixers matched in restricted free agency - is approximately $7,723,000.
That comes after they were five minutes of passable offense away from beating the big-brother Boston Celtics in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001.
That comes after franchise player Joel Embiid, still in the guts of his prime, broke through and won league MVP.
At the time of the first jump-ball of the season, the Sixers will likely have spent the third-fewest dollars of any team to make it to the second round of last season's playoffs. Only the two teams that met in the Finals - the champion Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat - spent less money in the summer of 2023.
The Heat at least have a reasonable out. They thought they were going to pry disgruntled star guard Damian Lillard away from the Portland Trail Blazers. So, they watched idly, inking a couple of free agents to league-minimum deals so as to not complicate the package involved in a Lillard deal. It hurts now because Lillard ended up elsewhere and they had to let key rotation players walk in anticipation of a potential trade, but the justification for a quiet summer isn't unreasonable.
The Nuggets might've lost some pieces, but those first championship rings in the history of their franchise might just shine brightly enough to make up for it for now.
The Celtics underwent a makeover in their foundation, shipping out long-time glue guy Marcus Smart to get Kristaps Porzingis, and then winning the bid for Jrue Holiday in the aftermath of the Lillard trade.
The Bucks were completely embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs. They responded to that, and the pressure applied by perennial MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, by winning the Lillard sweepstakes. They also renewed their bet on the core that won them a championship in 2021, agreeing to new deals with Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
The Knicks extended Josh Hart off of his player option in 2023-24 and added Donte DiVincenzo. The Lakers poached Gabe Vincent from the Heat, and added Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes, and Christian Wood. They re-signed Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, and D'Angelo Russell. They secured Jarred Vanderbilt's services for years to come with a contract extension.
The Suns traded Chris Paul for Bradley Beal, attracted role players in free agency with beneficially-termed minimum contracts, and then replenished their depth by downgrading Deandre Ayton in exchange for a few pieces as a third team in the Lillard deal.
The Warriors traded Jordan Poole for Chris Paul, betting that their four-time-champion core has one last run in them and that a more reliable veteran can stabilize their team when the starters aren't on the floor.
The Sixers didn't make a trade.
Say what you will about Joel Embiid and his rank amongst the reasons the Sixers collapsed at the end of the 2023 Eastern Conference semifinals, or his rank amongst the reasons the Sixers have failed to break through the second round of the playoffs each year of his career.
At the end of the day, he's a walking invitation to the playoffs. Every season. Maybe some day he'll even get through a postseason without injuries keeping him at a diminished capacity. And maybe he can do enough by himself to carry Philadelphia through its perpetual ceiling.
So, no. 21 is the only person in Philadelphia who needs justification for the Sixers' unsettling offseason. He's the one who keeps the ship afloat through it all.
For Daryl Morey, that justification starts with a player who was drafted at no. 21.
"I think we have a great up-and-coming player in Maxey. We have a great roster. Obviously, Joel is a very smart player. Those teams that added players also had to subtract significant players," the Sixers president of basketball operations said at Media Day on Monday.
"Look, things need to play out. We feel strongly we have a winning team. We have a team that can win and make a lot of noise in the playoffs. I understand we need to prove that. But, teams emerge."
"You go into last season and, say, a Miami and a Denver, they were not even in the top three of teams that thought could make the Finals. Look, we have a lot of questions to answer. Obviously, the 'James' is the big one. Coach talked about battles at different positions. But, we feel like we have the pieces."
One of the best things Morey can do as teams that were already thought of as better than or equal to the Sixers improve is keep lines of communication open with his franchise player. Communication keeps trust, and trust keeps players from letting their eyes wander towards other teams.
"I spoke to Joel yesterday. Joel loves this team, loves this city. He's committed to winning a championship here. I don't take the responsibility lightly, though. Myself, Elton, all the front office," Morey remarked.
"We have to show all the time that we're putting the team in a great situation to win, and that's our job. So, even though obviously Joel loves this city and is looking forward to winning a title for this city, I know my job is to continue to improve the team and show all the players that this is a team where we can win."
Embiid is aware of how the Sixers' revolving door of personnel affects his chances of catching that elusive championship. But, he's also aware of all that he is capable of on the basketball court. That confidence in himself fosters belief that he's never as far from a championship as skeptics think he is.
"It's all about consistency. If every year is going to be the same thing, then that doesn't put you closer to winning a championship. So, that gets frustrating. But, I also believe that it doesn't matter who's on the team, I am always going to believe I have a chance to win. So, it's all up to me, really, to just go out there and try to do whatever it takes," Embiid said at Media Day.
That state of mind is inherently circular. Embiid believes in himself. He's on the Sixers' roster. Therefore, he believes the Sixers have a chance to win a championship, regardless of what anyone says.
"I'm here in Philly, I love Philly, I've been here my whole career. It's all about winning a championship; mostly really, if I got to be honest, if we were to win a championship, it would be for the city and the fans because they deserve it. Going through the Process years, the disappointments. I don't think anybody wants to go back to that era of basketball, where you just knew you had no shot of winning. But, when you got a bunch of good players on the basketball team, anything can happen."
"Tyrese, I think, is ready to take another step. Tobias, I expect him to be great, like he's always been. Contract year. James, contract year, if he is to show up, And we got a bunch of other guys. We added some new guys. Kelly, I think, is going to help us a lot. And there's so many other guys. So, just trying to focus on taking it day by day and trying to figure out how to win as a team with a new coaching staff. We don't know how long that's going to take for everybody to gel in a new system. But, it's exciting, going out there, trying to figure it out and how to get together and win."
But, even though Embiid is loyal to this franchise, to Philadelphia, and to his teammates, he's not naive. He's not blind to the situation. There are certain expectations and standards that must be met in order for him to stay attached.
"You got to go for it. Every single year of my career, at least for the next eight years, I believe that we should go after it every single year to try to win a championship. There should never be any lost seasons. And I hope they understand that and I think they understand that. So, like I said, the goal is to win a championship and every single year we should always do whatever it takes to put us in that situation."
It's not the loudest message. But, it's a message, nonetheless.