Derrick White and the San Antonio Spurs have until Monday evening to finalize a contract extension for the 26-year-old guard. If no contract extension is agreed upon, White will become a restricted free agent after the forthcoming season.
The fact that the two sides haven’t reached a deal yet isn’t concerning. In fact, the only players in White’s draft class who have signed a contract extension so far are those who signed max deals. For non-max players, it’s customary for the negotiations to go down to the wire.
Last year, Dejounte Murray got his $64 million contract extension hours before the deadline. If the Spurs and White come to an agreement, expect for it to follow a similar timeline.
The negotiations between Murray and the Spurs last year were complicated. Both sides had reasons why waiting made some sense. By comparison, I think the negotiations with White will be easier. Although it’s not a slam dunk that San Antonio gives him a contract extension, I think both White and the Spurs will be motivated enough that an agreement is likely.
Why the Spurs Will Be Motivated to Give Derrick White a Contract Extension
After trudging through a winless preseason, recreating the magic of the mythical Bubble Spurs remains the goal. That’s all Pop talked about in training camp and it’s still the main focus, for good reason. The Bubble Spurs gave a hopeful glimpse into the future — a future in which San Antonio has evolved into a fast, freewheeling outfit that has modernized their offensive attack by increasing the pace and bombing three-pointers without hesitation.
White was in the middle of everything and played the leading role in orchestrating the Bubble magic. When he wasn’t firing threes like he was getting paid per heave, he could be found creating in the pick-and-roll or getting his hands dirty on the defensive end.
In the starting lineup after spending most of his pre-Bubble regular season on the bench, White looked ready, willing and able to step into a starring role. Importantly, White meshed well with Murray in the starting lineup. Previously, Pop had (inexplicably, in my opinion) not allowed those two guards to play together much during the 2019-20 campaign.
Going forward, White looks like a very important piece to the puzzle. First of all, his playmaking and ball-handling will help mask weaknesses for Murray. Since the Spurs have already invested in Murray, keeping White around is extra important to help ensure that investment pays dividends. Furthermore, once DeMar DeRozan departs, White’s playmaking and ball-handling will become even more vital.
Secondly, White is a good teammate by all accounts. He’s the type of player the Spurs like to have in the organization. He doesn’t complain and he plays a winning brand of basketball,
Finally, White is likely to get even better. While he’s unlikely to become an All-Star, he illustrated his potential in the Bubble to take on a very big and very important role. A player who is getting better and better who has shown glimpses of being able to produce at a high level isn’t someone that you want to let get away.
The fact that a lot of teams will have cap space next summer should also give the Spurs motivation to agree with White on a contract extension. With Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the picture, a rapidly improving player like White who has sporadically produced at a star-like clip could be the recipient of a big payday.
For example, if White plays this season like he did in the Bubble, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a scenario where a team will try to woo him with a nine-figure deal. Likely? No. But it’s possible, especially if the end of the pandemic is in sight and financial certainty has returned to the NBA landscape. Protecting the franchise from that possibility should have the Spurs ready to make a deal.
Why Derrick White Will Be Motivated to Sign a Contract a Contract Extension
White will have his own set of motivating factors. Firstly, while he started in the Bubble, there’s no telling what will happen this season. I think Pop should start him again once he’s healthy. In fact, I think it’s a no-brainer. But, then again, I thought he should start last season — so I can’t imagine White is brimming with confidence that he’ll automatically be given a Bubble-sized role.
Second of all, there are still enough pandemic-related uncertainties swirling about that White and his agent could prefer to take the best deal he can now. If the return to the non-Bubble world doesn’t go smoothly, the NBA’s future could be even murkier next offseason than it is right now.
Thirdly, and most importantly, White has to factor in his injury history. He hasn’t been an ironman, to put it kindly.
- White broke his wrist as a rookie.
- As a sophomore, White suffered a left plantar fascia tear in preseason shortly after being elevated to the starting point guard role due to Murray tearing his ACL.
- In the middle of his sophomore season, he dealt with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and was sidelined again.
- To begin his third season in the league, White appeared to still be limited due to plantar issues. That resulted in a disappointing start to his 2019-20 campaign.
In White’s first five Bubble games, he averaged 21.8 points, 5.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game. In the sixth game, he had 16 points, three assists and three rebounds in the first half. But moments before halftime, the injury bug bit him again. This time it was a knee bruise. White tried to continue in the second half but was forced to leave the court a few minutes into the third quarter. He tried to gut it out in the next game but he was hobbling around the court.
After the Bubble, an examination found that White needed to undergo surgery for a dislocated toe. Four months later, he’s still out of the lineup and, in the best case scenario, he’s a few weeks away from being able to return to the court.
With his lengthy injury history, no one could blame White for seeking security from the Spurs instead of rolling the dice on his body holding up.
What a Derrick White Contract Extension Would Look Like
I think there are some pretty clear boundaries when the two sides begin to get serious. Jordan Clarkson got $51.5 million over four years from the Utah Jazz. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got a similar contract: $39 million over three years. Thus, I expect the Spurs to start by offering somewhere around $52 million over four years.
On the high end, White’s agent will likely point to Joe Harris getting $75 million over four years from the Brooklyn Nets and Bogdan Bogdanovic getting $72 million over four years from the Atlanta Hawks.
If White and the Spurs end up splitting the difference, they would end up almost exactly at the $64 million contract extension that Murray received last season. While White’s agent could make the argument that White is more valuable now than Murray was before last season, that’s not as clear cut as it may seem once you factor in how the pandemic has impacted the NBA’s finances and the fact that White is three years older than Murray was during his negotiations.
When I’ve asked other people in the NBA universe to predict White’s contract extension, I’ve heard everything from four-year, $50 million to four-year $70 million. That’s the ballpark.
What Will Happen?
As I said above, I think the two sides will agree to terms. The Spurs will want to protect themselves from getting into a bidding war if White continues his Bubble magic, while White will be motivated due to his questionable role and worrisome injury history.
If I had to put a number on it, I’d predict that White ends up taking a four-year contract extension worth between $64 and $68 million.
The only issue that I can see becoming a stumbling block is White’s current health. If the doctors aren’t sure when he’ll be able to return from his toe surgery, the Spurs would probably then want to take a wait-and-see approach. White’s injury history is treacherous enough that it’s possible that the Spurs will want to proceed with caution. But, otherwise, if White is expected to return soon and he has no long-term issues, the Spurs will want to finalize a deal and I think White will too.
In theory, keeping cap space open next summer could motivate the Spurs to not give White a contract extension– but I don’t think that will be the case. After giving re-signing Jakob Poeltl to a sizeable contract, it’s obvious that the Spurs aren’t prioritizing cap space.
While I had strong thoughts on Poeltl’s value, I’m not going to draw a line in the sand when it comes to extending White. Given the circumstances, I think $64 to $68 million could be the landing spot. But White’s important enough that if it takes another $10 million over four years to get him to sign, I wouldn’t be upset. On the flipside, if both sides are concerned about injuries, it wouldn’t shock me if White ends up getting a smaller extension than Murray did.
Whatever the number ends up being, I hope a deal is struck on Monday. The contract may have to be laced with incentives to protect the Spurs and satisfy White — but I believe there’s a deal to be had.