The Houston Rockets decision to use the second of their three first round picks on Royce White of Iowa State raised a few eyebrows and questions not because of his talent, but because selecting him would bring along additional challenges on top of developing him as a player. Royce's talent was unquestioned and he probably would have been a top 10 pick, but his baggage was enough for some teams to drop him off their board completely. It was a risk, but one the Rockets felt comfortable taking because of his upside and having three first round picks afforded them that luxury.
This isn't hindsight because I said this on this website in the weeks leading up to the draft and on the day of, but I thought the Rockets should have taken Tyler Zeller the center from North Carolina. White's anxiety issues were one of the reasons I felt that way, but I also felt that the Rockets had a log jam at power forward and that White would struggle to find a true position in the NBA. The Rockets had already spent their last two lottery picks on undersized power forwards; I thought drafting a quality center would be a better move.
Before I go any further, let me start off by saying that I am sympathetic to the anxiety problem that Royce White suffers from. Mental issues like anxiety and depression are real and dealing with it can consume a persons life. Issues like this sometimes get dismissed and the people who suffer from them are labeled as soft because people simply don't understand them. With a cut you can see the blood, with a broken arm or leg you can see the cast, but obviously mental illness is not quickly noticed by the eye and is harder to understand. For people who haven't suffered from mental issues or known someone who has, they often think people are faking the problem or trying to get attention, but while there will always be exceptions, most people who have a mental illness are suffering more than they would from most physical injuries. If you think White is faking his illness, just ask yourself this; what would he have to gain from faking? Why would he spend the money for therapists, alternate transportation, and go through the drama of this issue when he needed to be learning the Rockets system and practicing, if this problem wasn't real? He simply would have nothing to gain from faking an illness.
So who is to blame for this situation? I believe some blame should be given to both sides, but I give a little more to the Rockets organization for even putting themselves in this situation. White's problems weren't a new development right before the draft, his problems have been well documented going back to his time at the University of Minnesota, and his issues weren't only with anxiety. From CBS Sports:
White was suspended last fall after an incident at the Mall of America and later pleaded guilty to theft and disorderly conduct. White left Minnesota in February after being charged with trespassing in connection to an alleged theft of a laptop computer from a university dorm.
General anxiety disorder is a legitimate problem, but it doesn't cause you to steal on multiple occasions; he has or at least had issues beside anxiety. If the Rockets felt his talent level was too much to pass up on, they needed to have every potential issue ironed out way before now. They needed to be talking to doctors, former coaches, former teammates, family members, and anyone else who could provide useful information to whether or not they could make this work. I'm not saying they didn't do any homework, but it seems obvious they did a little assuming that they could make things work rather than finding out for sure if it would be possible. I don't believe this decision could have possibly been unanimous on draft day, there had to be someone in the brain trust that believed drafting White wasn't worth the risk. Between general manager Daryl Morey, the coaching staff, the scouts, owner Leslie Alexander, CEO Tad Brown, and anyone else in the war room; a couple of them had to have concerns about this pick. Whoever was the biggest champion for this move, whoever convinced or over-ruled the people not on board has some explaining to do if this issue doesn't get resolved for the better very soon.
I believe the Rockets made the initial mistake, but what is happening now is the fault of Royce White. The Rockets have hired a therapist for him, they've arranged for a bus to drive him around; they've made an effort to make this work. Maybe they didn't entirely know what they were getting into when they made the pick, but they've made more of an effort than I believe most teams would for a player who hasn't even played for them yet. If White believes there is a problem with how his situation has been handled by the Rockets, that needs to be addressed directly to the team behind closed doors and not ranted about on Twitter. His 48 hour Twitter assault on the Rockets was unprofessional and crossed the line of how one should address a problem he or she has with their employer. What employer would put up with publicly being called a liar? Even if he's in the right, White has to address the problem in a different manner. Ken Berger of CBS Sports put it very well:
You cannot, in any work environment, publicly assail your employer on the internet if you disagree with how you're being treated. File a grievance, file a lawsuit, have your agent write a letter ... do anything but turn a private, difficult conflict into a public pinata for the world to see.
If you are going to air out your problems publicly, at least tell us what the problem is instead of tweeting vague, non specific messages of not being supported or cared about. If you're not being supported, how are you not being supported? Unless you can provide us with something specific, the team paying for a bus and therapist seems like support to me. The Rockets have excused several of his absences from training camp and practices, how can he claim they haven't been sympathetic or tried to help him with his issue? There is a line between helping an employee out and letting him walk all over you and dictate terms and White is approaching that line if he hasn't gone over already. Especially for a player who hasn't even played in a game yet, if the Rockets cave to demands that are unreasonable, they'll have a difficult time telling other players no when they have special requests. They've met his travel requests, given him time off, and paid for a therapist to help him with his anxiety; what else does he want?
His actions right now seem very unreasonable and removed from the reality of the situation; behaviors that are symptoms of his disorder. From WebMD:
Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can't stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person's thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities, and relationships.
His other repeated complaint besides "not being supported," is that he feels he's being treated as a "commodity". I've got bad news for your Royce, you are a commodity. That doesn't mean he shouldn't be respected or treated fairly, but the NBA is a business. The Rockets are paying you millions of dollars to play basketball and have made all the reasonable and necessary accommodations to help you with your condition. At some point Royce, you're going to have to accept a certain level of personal responsibility. You are the one who decided to play basketball and enter the NBA draft. As far as professions go, you couldn't have picked one much worse when having a fear of flying. Players are traded, cut, or benched every day in the NBA, the Rockets are trying to help you be successful; your situation with the Rockets is not as bad as you're making it out to be.
So what is the next step for the team and for White? If White doesn't work with the team more than he is now to fix this situation and get back on the court, he's heading in the direction of eventually getting cut from the team. No one wants that to happen, but there will be a point when dealing with this situation isn't worth the hassle. The Rockets have invested in White and as a first round pick he is guaranteed two years of over a million dollars (third year is an option), so they won't cut and run now, they've got time to work this out. However, if White continues to handle this problem publicly and isn't even playing and helping the team on the court, there will be a tipping point when dealing with this drama is no longer worth the effort. For the betterment of both sides, I hope they reach a workable agreement before they reach that point.