By Ben Golliver
After months of deadlock, there is finally movement to report between the Rockets and rookie forward Royce White, who has yet to appear in a game because of an apparent dispute over the treatment of his anxiety disorder.
The Rockets announced Saturday that White would be assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the club's D-League affiliate. Shortly after the Rockets previously attempted to assign White to the Vipers in November, the 2012 first-round pick stopped showing up to practices and games and repeatedly expressed frustration with the team's handling of his generalized anxiety disorder on his Twitter account.
The Rockets and White spent training camp trying to fashion what the rookie forward called a "good faith deal" to help manage his transition to the NBA, as his anxiety disorder makes it difficult for him to fly on airplanes.
The Rockets took a leap of faith in selecting White, hoping that his versatile all-around offensive game and high energy could be nice additions to a young, developing roster. White was a standout at Las Vegas Summer League, but the issue of his fear of flying arose almost immediately during the preseason, and the agreement between the Rockets and White was said to include provisions that would allow him to travel by bus during road trips, even when the Rockets were covering long distances.
Then, just a few weeks into the regular season, White publicly questioned the team's commitment to that deal. Hailed for his honesty in coming forward to disclose his anxiety issues in a video documentary, White second-guessed that approach in a statement, via ClutchFans.net.
"In hindsight, perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder, due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets. As a rookie, I want to settle into a team and make progress; but since preseason the Rockets have been inconsistent with their agreement to proactively create a healthy and successful relationship. At this point the Rockets are aware of my position and the reason for my absence. Any other response is inaccurate. This is important to me. It is a health issue. I must advocate for my rights. It is a player-commodity league. The failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport."
On his verified Twitter account, @Highway_30, White wrote in November that he is "most [definitely] not AWOL" and that there are "many things [people] don't know. Honesty is what I'm sticking with." He also said that his "problem" with the Rockets dated to "WAY before" the team decided to assign him to the D-League in November. He also provided a little clarity of the nature of his issues with the Rockets.
While anxiety is the issue, the main piece of that isn't AIRPLANES, it's asking for support [for] my disorder that's consistent and fair. Again My "Anxiety" is not well but not BAD, my main WORRY is being treated as a digit instead of a HUMAN, in the case of my health.
White also repeatedly cited the Bible verse, Luke 12:3, which stresses the importance of honesty.
Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
The Rockets avoided responding directly to White's statements, though some fans and observers were critical of his statements. The Houston Chronicle reported at the time that GM Daryl Morey said only that White was "not available right now" but that owner Leslie Alexander seemed to hint that White's future with the team could be in jeopardy.
“That’s tenuous,” Alexander said. “It’s tough to talk about something like that. I think we’re going to handle it internally. If he doesn’t work out, well, it’s tough to lose a draft choice.”
The Houston Chronicle also reported that the Rockets fined White for missing mandated therapy sessions.
In November, we wrote here at the Point Forward that the easiest solution was for White to report to the Vipers, as the travel demands there are significantly lighter and playing time should be plentiful. Of course, given White's condition, that assessment was much easier said than done. It's good to see now that the obvious solution does seem to be workable. No one wins if White's career ended before it began. White, 21, was the No. 16 pick in the 2012 draft. He signed a rookie contract in July that will pay him $1.6 million this season and $1.9 million in 2013-14. Both years are fully guaranteed.