By Ben Golliver
The Rockets announced Sunday that rookie forward Royce White has been suspended one week after he refused an assignment to the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers for the second time this season.
"The Houston Rockets have suspended Royce White effective immediately for refusing to provide services as required by his Uniform Player Contract," Rockets GM Daryl Morey said in a statement. "We will continue to work with Royce to hopefully come to a resolution."
The Rockets and White, the No. 16 pick in the 2012 draft, have been engaged in a months-long dispute over the treatment of his anxiety disorder. White has yet to appear in a game this season and has not traveled with the team for weeks. Training camp opened with the player and team attempting 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. Shortly after the Rockets previously attempted to assign White to the Vipers in November, he stopped showing up to practices and games and repeatedly expressed frustration on his Twitter account with the team’s handling of his generalized anxiety disorder.
White responded to the suspension in a string of messages on his @Highway_30 verified Twitter account Sunday.
"What's suspending me [supposed] to do? I've been away from the team for a month [and a half]. Guess we want to give it a title to shift accountability. Threat, fines, suspension won't deter me. I won't accept illogical health decisions, I will keep asking for safety and health.
Again the Houston Rockets management has gone against what THEIR OWN [doctors] have declared and their own words.
[I'm] not refusing D League. I'm refusing to work, AT ALL, until a protocol is put in that ensures safety. Doctors should make medical decisions. Undeniably UNSAFE FOR ANY PLAYER when management has executive authority in medical situations. Conflict of Interest, Health vs. Business
Last week, White called his D-League assignment "unsafe" because he does not believe the Rockets' front office should supersede medical advice in their treatment of him.
“I have chosen to not play, because the doctors and I believe it to be unsafe for unqualified Rockets front office personnel to make medical decisions, as they are not mental health professionals,” White said in a statement last week.
He also gave a radio interview this week in which he repeated his desire for a medical protocol that would allows doctors to have "executive authority in medical situations regarding mental health" rather than team executives like Morey.
White's statement last week also asserted that the Rockets are not "adhering to medical sensibility" in their treatment of him and implies that the Rockets' handling of him isn't being undertaken with his best medical interests in mind.
In hindsight of the recent tragedies in this country, that had mental illness variables, you would think it would encourage people to act more proactively in that arena. You would think that decision makers who are not well informed about mental health, would take the consultation and recommendation of those who are. You would think we would start to do everything possible to not let the tragic consequences befall us first, before we ask the logical question, “why?”, “who knew?” “how could we have helped?. Why not take a proactive approach of “who knows?” “how can we listen?”, “how can we support now?”
I do wish to play, but I only intend to do so with the collaboration and recommendation of trained professionals. The purpose of a doctor’s confirmation is to ensure that health decisions are made in the sole interest of health and not conflicted with business. My only hope is that decision makers involved realize that doctors are the only logical source to decide action.
There is an admitted lack of knowledge on behalf of the Rockets and the NBA, it becomes transparent as they choose to forego the knowledge of trained professionals and make independent decisions for something as complex as mental health without consulting any doctors. The Rockets have told me in recent conversations that it is their right to decline even their own doctors’ recommendations. The concept of not listening to medical consultants in medical situations is alarming. It is also alarming that a player is susceptible to fines for simply adhering to the recommendation of doctors.
White continued by saying that it would be "fundamentally incorrect" to say that the Rockets have supported him and that their representation of the situation has been "extremely misleading" and "totally inaccurate." White made similar statements after he initially left the Rockets in November.
The Rockets have generally avoided responding directly to White’s statements, though some fans and observers were critical of his statements. Back in November, the Houston Chronicle reported 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.
Why suspend White now? Well, as White noted, accountability is likely at the heart of the decision. Formally assigning White to the D-League and then suspending him when he did not report makes it "official" that the Rockets believe they have taken sufficient steps to work with White and that White is shirking his responsibilities. There's an implied message here too: The Rockets surely wouldn't suspend a player for not playing if they honestly agreed with the notion that asking him to play was unsafe. If Houston was on board with White's read of the situation, they could simply continue to allow him to remain away from the team while they worked towards a resolution. A suspension not only "shifts accountability" it shifts the Rockets to a more confrontational public position. If they allowed White to remain away from the team, the Rockets could have been seen as tacitly agreeing -- or at least not disagreeing -- with his philosophical approach to their internal decision-making process on medical decisions. No more.
This delicate stalemate has dragged on and on and, as The Point Forward recently noted, the Rockets have reached a point where they felt they had to take a different approach. We've written multiple times here at the Point Forward that the easiest solution would be 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 disorder and his fundamental desire to reshape the medical protocol used by his organization, that assessment was much easier said than done. White, 21, 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.