The Spurs made their last move of the offseason. Before the deadline to sign Derrick White to an extension, they reached an agreement with the 26-year-old guard.
The new contract will pay White $73 million over four years, locking him up for most of his prime. Now the Spurs have three players on their books for the long haul, as White joins Dejounte Murray, who was signed to an extension last season, and the recently re-signed Jakob Poeltl as the de facto long term core of the franchise.
Keeping White was a must, so this is clearly good news, but let’s take a look at the new contract to determine what it could mean for the Spurs, on the court and the cap sheet.
White is not overpaid
It’s easy to see exorbitant numbers in contracts going to non-stars like White and get a little apprehensive about cap issues. The important thing to remember is that, even though the pandemic slowed it down, the cap is rising in the NBA. While still a lot of money, $18 million per year now is not superstar money, like it was just a few years ago. It’s helpful to think about contracts as percentages of the cap to put things in perspective, and in that sense, White’s contract is far from an albatross. In 2021/22, White will make around $16 million, which will represent under 15 percent of the total cap. To put things in perspective, DeMar DeRozan currently accounts for almost 25 percent of the cap. Even if White doesn’t reach star level, he’ll be paid appropriately as a starter-caliber player, which he has proved to be.
White’s salary also compares positively to those of other guards in the league. He’ll make around the same as Ricky Rubio, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, and while not as proven as those guys, he is expected to take at least one last leap in production. The bubble showed how big of an impact an empowered White can have on the team, and as soon as he returns from injury, he’ll have the opportunity to prove that his stretch of excellent play in Orlando was no fluke. In all likelihood he’ll start and play heavy minutes. In just 25 minutes a game last season, White averaged 11 points, three rebounds and three assists. It wouldn’t be surprising if, with some extra playing time, he can put together a 15-5-5 stat line while providing above average defense. That alone would be worth his salary.
White is 26 already, so expecting a leap to stardom is probably too optimistic, though not completely out of the question. But since he’s not being paid like a star, if that transformation never happens, he’ll still be properly compensated.
The Spurs still have cap flexibility
After re-signing Poeltl and now extending White, San Antonio has lost potential cap space for the future. It’s understandable to worry about how the ample open room for next offseason that the Spurs have been cultivating for years has now been reduced. Fortunately the decisions made this offseason will still leave them with more than enough cap flexibility to maneuver.
The Spurs will still have over $40 million in free room next offseason if they let every veteran go, which is enough to sign a veteran of over 10 years to a max deal. There might not be a lot or targets worth that much, with Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signing with the Bucks and Kawhi Leonard not likely returning to San Antonio even in the unlikely event he decides to leave the Clippers, but the Spurs will still have more than enough cap space to make some smaller signing to address positions of need. And since they are all in reasonable deals, if in the future the Spurs need to clear salary, they should easily be able to trade Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl or White. For now, flexibility won’t be a problem.
There was a case for simply allowing White to enter restricted free agency instead of paying him now to keep more space open just in case, but that could have meant matching a larger contract from, say, a desperate Knicks team that had whiffed on the big names and would try to poach him. By locking him up now the Spurs are protecting themselves from that type of scenario right before what could be a breakout season for White, which is smart.
All in all, there’s not much to complain about the extension. It’s fair for what White brings to the table now and it doesn’t kill the Spurs’ future flexibility. It will also keep him out of a free agency pool that has been becoming smaller and could have made White a target for teams to spend the money they saved up but couldn’t spend on stars.
Hopefully White will not only live up to the contract, but outperform it. He certainly has the talent to do so. Now that he has financial security and the trust of the front office, it will be on him to make another leap.