By Ben Golliver
Rockets forward Royce White announced Thursday that his turbulent rookie season is complete after just 12 minor-league appearances.
White -- who had been playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers following a months-long dispute with the Rockets over the treatment of his mental health -- announced on Twitter that he would be leaving the D-League team to return to Houston, where he would begin workouts in preparation for the 2013-14 season.
"[I] have been advised by our team physician it is most logical I be in Houston the remainder of the season," White wrote. "Thank you Rio Grande Valley Vipers for having me.
"Working out in Houston to transition to next year has been medically deemed the healthiest option. I'm excited to get to work. ... To clarify, I'm not quitting basketball. I'm working out in Houston to better transition and prepare for next season. Very excited for it."
White, 21, averaged 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 25.9 minutes per game in his 12 appearances for the Vipers. He has yet to appear in a game for the Rockets this season and is on a standard contract for first-round picks that pays him a fully-guaranteed $1.6 million this season and $1.7 million in 2013-14. The Rockets hold team options on the third and fourth years of the deal.
The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that "Rockets management was not a part of the decision" and that the Rockets "would not comment" about this latest development on the record.
While Rockets management is known for shuttling their young players back and forth between their D-League affiliate, White clarified that he is not being called up.
"Never said I'd be rejoining the Houston Rockets," White wrote. "Only that I'd be returning to Houston. ... Don't understand the uproar because I'm working out in Houston... Relax [people]! Showing you're too high strung over sports."
White's announcement comes just days after he told The Huffington Post in a video interview that he believed executives in the NBA league office and the Rockets "want me gone" because of his advocacy for his mental health rights.
“I’m a problem because I’m not afraid to say what I think and I’m not afraid to stand alone. Even amongst the NBA community, the players, the union, the NBA office, and [commissioner] David Stern and [deputy commissioner] Adam Silver. I’m not afraid to stand alone in my own circle, and say, hey listen, you guys aren’t respecting mental health…
“If I was to make an educated guess, I would guess that Adam Silver and David Stern and the Rockets organization, some other owners in the league, GMs, want me gone. And why do they want me gone? Because business is about convenience, it’s not about doing what’s necessary, right? It’s about cutting overhead… Being efficient. And a lot of times, what’s best for us as human beings doesn’t meet that criteria for business people.”
The No. 16 pick in the 2012 NBA draft twice refused assignments to the Vipers earlier this season. Back in November, he stopped attending Rockets games and practices and he remained away from the organization until he made his debut for the Vipers on Feb. 12. The Rockets imposed a suspension on Jan. 6, due to his failure to report to the Vipers, but reinstated White in late-January, when the two sides issued a joint statement announcing an agreement.
The joint statement read: “The Houston Rockets and Royce White have today reached an agreement that addresses the major issues that they have been discussing, provides a new start, and gives Royce the best opportunity for long term success as a Houston Rocket. This has been a learning process for both parties. The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have approved the settlement. Royce is no longer suspended and is re-instated effective immediately. He will report to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on February 11, 2013.”
That agreement came shortly after HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a feature on White, in which he called for a formalized protocol to handle his mental health treatment, as he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, panic attacks and a fear of flying. White also sought the appointment of an independent doctor -- “a medical point person” -- who would make the determination on whether or not he would be cleared to play.
To HBO, White painted the mental health protocol as a matter of life and death, saying that he was prepared to walk away from his NBA career if it came to that.
“If I was an NBA player now without the protocols and safety measures,” he said, “I would be risking my health, risking my life. What comes along with mental health if left untreated? Alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, those are things I’m not willing to risk to play basketball, to have money, to have fame. That’s it.”
With his doctor, White drafted a protocol that included an “acknowledgement” that “mental illness/disability as being in the category of medical condition,” meaning any absences resulting from mental health issues would be treated like an injury.
“If your orthopedist says Royce’s left toe has a crack in it, he shouldn’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight, you can’t run or jump against the Lakers tonight,” White told HBO. “The only difference is you can’t see mine. There’s no swelling, so to speak. It’s not purple.”
In a November letter to White revealed during the HBO feature, Rockets GM Daryl Morey expressed a desire to accommodate White’s requests but also some frustration with his absence. “We have bent over backwards to accommodate your requests and help you meet these goals,” the letter read. “At our meeting yesterday, I spent significant time addressing your frustrations. I would like to take this opportunity to further explain how your actions and the changing nature of your explanations for your actions has frustrated our attempts to help you meet your goals. The bottom line is that we remain willing to work with you on issues that arise from legitimate medical need, but you have to come to games, practice and everything else that you are able to do, just like any other player.”