Former San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White had quite the postseason run for the Boston Celtics, culminating in an appearance in the NBA Finals. White was a fan favorite during his five years with the Spurs, so it probably came as a surprise to many when he was shipped out at the trade deadline. In retrospect, it's easy to second-guess the team's decision to trade him -- but fans shouldn't, despite his performance in the NBA Finals.
After all, the Spurs had good reason to move White -- he underperformed. He was expected to help carry the offense after the team traded DeMar DeRozan. Instead, he sort of just fit in. Dejounte Murray quickly took control of the Spurs' offense, and White could've pivoted to being an effective second option. He failed in that role, however, and proved to be an inconsistent third option.
By the time the trade deadline came around, it was fairly clear that his role in the NBA was that of a capable starter and a better sixth man. That certainly doesn't make him a bad player. Actually, his defense and playmaking alone made him valuable, but the Spurs couldn't justify paying him $17.5 million a year.
That was particularly true with Devin Vassell playing behind him. Vassell will make $23.6 million less over the next two seasons and could ultimately prove to be better than White by the end of his rookie deal.
Dealing Derrick White just made sense for the Spurs
Based on that, it’s hard to blame the Spurs for agreeing to deal him to the Boston Celtics. They saw White more as a role player, and he’s proven to be much better suited for a win-now situation. Still, the Celtics overpaid for him by offering Josh Richardson, a 2022 first (which became the 25th pick), and a 2028 first-round pick swap.
While a first-round pick for White makes sense, a 2028 pick swap doesn't because of the risk of having to swap a good pick for a bad one. Then there's Richardson, who was used as a throw-in by the Celtics to make the salaries work. That was a questionable decision considering how well he played in Boston. He was one of their best shooters, nailing 39.7% of his threes, and averaged a solid 9.7 points in only 24.9 minutes.
White is a better defender and passer, but Richardson’s shooting makes him a better fit with the Spurs and he shot a blazing 44.4% from three post-trade. Richardson will also make just $12.1 million next season, in the final year of his deal, much less than what White will earn. That salary combined with his strong play means that he could be worth a first round pick if the Spurs were to trade him.
If they go that route, that would essentially mean that the Celtics traded two firsts for White, and he simply isn't worth that right now and he might never be. White has gradually become more reliant on shooting threes, but he shot the ball poorly in San Antonio this past season and his struggles continued in Boston.
After being traded, he drained only 30.6% of his threes during the regular season and 31.3% in the postseason. If that doesn't drastically improve, then his value will only decrease, which is further proof that the Spurs made the right decision to move him.
Overall, despite White's play in the NBA Finals, fans shouldn't regret the team's decision to trade him. After all, prior to being traded, White struggled in a bigger role while Murray emerged as a star. That made him expendable and the Celtics overpaid to acquire him. The Spurs' decision to trade him was absolutely the right one.