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Sixers Mailbag - Will Joel Embiid have a long career?

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Joel Embiid’s played just 31 games out of a possible 246. Is it possible for him to have a long career?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

We took a break from the mailbag game for a while, but with the season wrapping up and an exciting summer coming off, it was time to bring it back. In this edition, we talk about Joel Embiid’s (in)ability to stay healthy, the value of Dario Saric, paying Robert Covington and more.

@MikePieco: Will Joel Embiid have a long and healthy career?

This is the million dollar question, and I truly believe that his health will dictate the level of success the Sixers achieve over the next 5-10 years. Yes, we still haven’t seen Ben Simmons, Dario Saric has been great and there’s still a handful of draft picks in the pipeline, but Embiid is such a rare and unique talent. I’m not sure how any one of those players (or even the group of them) replicate what he brings to this team on both ends of the floor.

To get back to the question, logic would tell you it might not be possible. Out of a possible 246 games over his three year career, he’ll have played in just 31 of them. He’s had back surgery, two serious foot surgeries, and now knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. A recovery timeline hasn’t been indicated by the team yet (surprise!), but out of all of his injuries, this one does seems to be the least severe. Still, his inability to stay on the floor despite a relatively light workload does not bode well for the rest of his career, even if his most recent ailment may have been a freak accident.

With all that said, I’ll go against the tidal wave of information telling me that Embiid is remarkably brittle and say that he is capable of a decade-plus long career, but they’ll need to continue to handle him with kiddie gloves until he proves otherwise. I don’t expect him to ever play 82 games in a season, and frankly, that’s okay. The goal with Embiid now is to ensure longevity, so continuing to give him regular rest and monitoring his minutes like MLB teams do a pitcher’s innings count probably makes the most sense. If the Sixers continue to progress at the rate they’re expected to, the team’s objective will very quickly shift to making the playoffs, and having Embiid ready for meaningful basketball in April, May and one day June will be the most important part. The rest of the team should be able to pick up the slack for the random assortment of regular season games he wouldn’t be playing in. With the NBA decreasing the amount of back-to-back games and adding more days in between games next year, I think somewhere in the ballpark of 60-65 games is a good target for Embiid to have. It’s not ideal, but due to the rarity of Embiid’s talent, precautions have to be taken over the next several years. It’s the best way to try and ensure his health, and his NBA career.

@TScabbia: Would you consider a Saric trade if it moved needle enough to land either Fultz or Ball?

At this point, I can’t see why the Sixers would be motivated to do that. While Fultz or Ball would obviously fill much more pressing needs, Saric has been an extremely valuable contributor and undoubtedly a piece for the future. He’s been on a tear since early February, and in the month of March he’s averaging 19 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. For someone who has been playing for over a year straight with minimal rest (EuroLeague/TBL to FIBA Olympic Qualifying to Rio Olympics to the NBA) to be this productive is pretty impressive, and I think that bodes really well for his future. And offensively, he’s still putting up solid numbers despite shooting pretty poorly from three. He’s done basically all of his damage from within 15 feet.

With another offseason under his belt working on his form, he should certainly make the jump to becoming a more well rounded scorer.

It’s also worth noting that Saric’s professional experience certainly flattened the learning curve that Fultz and Ball will inevitably be dealing with next year. As the team tries to look for a happy medium between youth and experience in their pursuit of becoming a playoff team, a guy like Saric becomes even more valuable.

The depth of this class is also a deterrent. If the Sixers were to end up with the third or fourth pick, Kansas’s Josh Jackson, Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac have the potential to be All-Stars at the next level. Sitting still with whatever pick they end up with isn’t a bad idea by any means.

Saric is proving to be as good as advertised, and although Fultz and Ball should become great pros, I see no need to give up a piece that valuable in a deep draft class.

@KOConnorJR: If everyone on the active roster was healthy, what would be the starting five and bench rotation for this team?

(Considering you can only have 13 players on the active roster and an entirely healthy Sixers team would give them 15, lets leave out Tiago Splitter and Shawn Long out for this hypothetical.)

Starting five: Jerryd Bayless-Gerald Henderson-Robert Covington-Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid

I imagine this was the lineup Brett Brown envisioned for the season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder before Bayless and Simmons snapped their wrist and foot, respectively. That’s as well rounded a starting five I can imagine from this team right now. Simmons would likely run the point in this scenario, with Bayless playing off-ball and being the unit’s secondary ball handler. Bayless posted really good catch-and-shoot numbers from three-point range in Milwaukee last season, and Simmons should be able to set him up with a ton of drive-and-kicks. Outside of Bayless, the rest of this lineup is really sound defensively. They could switch 3-5 when needed and have relatively few matchup problems. Most of this stuff is matchup dependent, but Covington and Simmons should be able to defend point guards for long stretches at a time. This would be a pretty hard unit to score on.

Dario Saric would be the sixth man in this situation. He’s been fantastic since being pushed back into a starting role at the end of the season, but I would love to see him be able to feast on other bench units. He could step in for either Covington or Simmons in this situation. McConnell would sub in for Bayless, and I’d have Luwawu-Cabarrot ahead of Stauskas on the depth chart as Henderson’s replacement. The rookie’s development is much more important than trying to squeeze the last ounce of potential out of Stauskas, and he’s continued to improve with consistent playing time. Holmes would be Embiid’s backup in this situation, and then Sergio Rodriguez, Justin Anderson, and Jahlil Okafor would all play much more sparingly.

@John_Mount: How much would you be willing to pay Robert Covington? And do you think they will extend him by the October deadline?

(That deadline only applies to players on rookie contracts. Because the Sixers signed Robert Covington as a free agent, that late October cutoff date does not apply to him. Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ the Sixers would be able to work out an extension with Covington right up until June 30, 2018, the day before he becomes a free agent.)

Considering that Robert Covington’s four-year, $4 million deal might be the biggest bargain in the NBA, he’s going to be looking for a big pay raise. It’s pretty well deserved. His three-point shooting is still a couple ticks below the league average, but he’s starting to become one of the league’s most impactful defensive wings. He’s fifth in the league in defensive real-plus minus, first in pass deflections, fifth in steals, and 17th in defensive win shares. The numbers speak for themselves.

The only numbers that are hard to decipher are what Robert Covington might garner in his new deal. From a play perspective, Covington compares somewhat similarly to Jae Crowder, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract two years ago. But that was before the newly raised salary cap kicked in, and now players like Solomon Hill -- who is inferior to Covington on both ends of the floor -- are raking in $12 million a year. Old, washed up Luol Deng is pulling in a ridiculous $18 million a year, and three-point specialist Jared Dudley is earning $10 million a year with the Phoenix Suns. Seeing the range that Covington is likely to fall into, I would estimate a possible extension would be four years and between $48-60 million total. I have little problem giving him that kind of money. If the foundation of this team is to be built on defense, then Covington is going to be a vital component. While the inconsistent shooting is a concern, he’s shown improvement attacking the basket and finishing around the rim. His game should only continue to evolve in the coming years.

The Sixers have the most cap space out of any team in the NBA, and while they will certainly be on the hunt in free agency, I imagine locking up Covington is certainly a priority for them. My guess is they get a deal done prior to the start of next year.