When Steph Curry signed his big contract with the Golden State Warriors this summer, no one begrudged him the $201 million. After all, he’s been the most criminally underpaid player since 2012, when he signed a four-year contract with the Warriors worth $44 million. Last season, he made about $12 million, meaning one of the best players on the planet was just the 82nd highest-paid player in the NBA.
But it was a situation that both parties walked into with open eyes. Given Curry’s injury history at the time, it was seen as a reasonable compromise: Curry got a stable guaranteed contract, and the Warriors ventured a reasonable risk on the gamble that Curry would end up being able to stay healthy. Turns out that it was a pretty one-sided deal, leading Sports Illustrated to categorize his contract as an “Unspeakable Bargain.”
The 76ers and Joel Embiid were in a similar situation. Similar to the Warriors, they were faced with a looming contract and an unreliable, yet transformative, player leading both parties to acknowledge that they had to do something.
But when ESPN first broke the story on Embiid’s new contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, the details looked weird. Apparently, the contract value could range anywhere from $148 million to $178 million. Most fans are familiar with contract incentives, but the sheer scale of these incentives are notable. Rather than go all in for a low cost deal — like Curry and the Warriors did — the Sixers and Embiid opted for a large contract with some safety valves. Targeted safety valves:
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.
A long-standing challenge
This problem is not new to the NBA. The great Tom Ziller breaks down a couple of cautionary tales. A guy who never got paid (Greg Oden) and a guy who cost his franchise a TON of money, Brandon Roy:
Roy’s injuries — which hit in force just months after the wing began cashing in on his max contract — cost Portland a lot of money. That’s what Philadelphia is trying to protect itself from: A Brandon Roy situation with a max contract player who can’t stay on the court.
Oden, you may recall, never got paid, despite playing more than twice as many games as Embiid by this point in their careers.
So teams and players alike are all now aware of the various ways these deals can work out. We just looked at three scenarios that all shook out differently and in each one there were pretty clear winners and losers. The Sixers and Embiid are trying to avoid that — no matter how this turns out, it should end up being a pretty fair deal for all parties involved.
Bringing it back to the Warriors
So? What does this mean for the Warriors?
But moving forward the Warriors are going to have to get real inventive in order to keep not just the core of this team together, but the bench and our young talent as well. Obviously, we won’t be able to afford max contracts for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Equally obvious to most close observers is that the emergence of Patrick McCaw could quickly push him out of our price range. If this Embiid contract ends up being reasonably equitable, it could lay the groundwork for more complicated contract aerobics that the Warriors will almost certainly borrow from in the future. But first, we have to all see how the process actually works.