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Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens says the acquisition of guard Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs was a case of being presented with an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“We’ve thought for years that Derrick was a really good fit with our best players,” Stevens said during a video conference call Friday morning. “He is an excellent defender. He just makes the right play on offense over and over and over. He’s a guy that only cares about winning, that will do all of the little things, as you can see in some of his stats, defensively, with regard to willingness to put his body on the line, activity, shot challenges, all of those things. And on offense, just by making simple plays and doesn’t need to do anything to be on the highlights to really, really impact winning.
“We felt really fortunate to be able to get a guy like that on a long contract that we think is, again, you know, a perfect fit for our best players.”
White, who is signed through 2025, has familiarity with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, having played with them on Team USA in the 2019 World Cup. He also spent time with Ime Udoka when the Celtics coach was a Spurs assistant earlier in White’s career.
A guard with two-way ability, White is averaging 14.4 points and 5.6 assists per game — though, in keeping with a seasonlong trend for the Celtics, he is shooting 31.4% from 3-point range, a few points below his career average. Still, he and Smart should form an elite partnership in the backcourt defensively for Boston, and White provides another passer on a team that was in short supply of those before the trade deadline.
That said, the cost to get White — both for his play and his contract, which averages a little over $17 million per season — wasn’t cheap. Boston gave up its first-round pick in 2022 (top-four protected) and made a pick swap with the Spurs in 2028, something Stevens admitted weighed on him in making the move.
Ultimately, though, he decided that White’s fit was worth the price.
“I think the analysis of that is we have some really good players and we have a person that we think fits in perfectly with them as another really good player that can only make them better,” Stevens said.
That last point — finding players who can make Boston’s best players better — is something Stevens hit on again and again Friday. It was clearly his top priority heading into the deadline, one that was surprisingly busy for the Celtics.
While the expectation was that Boston would get under the luxury tax, after starting the day just a bit over it — which the Celtics did — and that Dennis Schroder would be moved — which he was — there was still a lot of roster turnover.
White and Daniel Theis came to Boston, while the Celtics sent out seven players — Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, P.J. Dozier, Bol Bol, Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando and Schroder — in three deals Thursday, leaving them with five open roster spots to fill.
As for Theis, his return to Boston from Houston came as a bit of a surprise, given he has three years remaining on his contract and the Celtics sent him away in a deadline day deal last year to get under the luxury tax.
Stevens, however, said that he thought Theis was a perfect complement to the team’s two centers, Robert Williams and Al Horford, and that if either of them is unable to play he can immediately step in and produce.
“The Theis move came about really late,” Stevens said. “Initially, we had talked to them a couple times over the past few days, but that came about very late. We did not think that there was going to be anything there and, in the last 20 minutes or so, that materializes as the whole move.
“… Theis knows how to make our best players better. That’s the best thing he does is he has a great feel for making others around him better. He’s got a savvy for the game.”
Boston has been soaring of late, playing as well as any team in the league over the past few weeks. Entering Friday’s home game against the Denver Nuggets, the Celtics have won six in a row and eight of their last nine and have outscored teams by 189 points during that stretch — nearly twice the amount of the second-ranked team in the NBA (the Memphis Grizzlies at 105 points) during the same time period.
But Stevens said the moves Boston made at the deadline were not influenced by the team’s recent play and instead were looking ahead to the playoffs this year and beyond. He said White and Theis will be assets over the course of a seven-game series.
“The most important thing is that this is not just about the next three months,” Stevens said. “This is about, again, adding guys that you think and can see playing in a seven-game knockdown, drag-out playoff series and you know they can be on the floor and play a role in helping you win. And obviously, they do that very differently, but both of those guys can do that and they both can do that for years to come.”