Philadelphia, PA – Sometimes, a conflict can have understandable points on both sides. Smart, well-meaning people can disagree on something, and there just may not be a right answer, or a wrong one.
The Royce White/Houston Rockets brewing battle may fall into that category.
White was taken 16th overall by the Rockets in this past NBA Draft. He suffers from an anxiety disorder and has spent much of the season on the inactive list. White doesn't feel the Rockets have adequately addressed his mental health needs.
The latest setback in this standoff came on Sunday when White refused an assignment to the Rockets' D-League affiliate.
"I do wish to play, but I only intend to do so with the collaboration and recommendation of trained professionals," White said in part of his statement. "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."
That seems to cut right to the heart of the argument: are you on the side of what's right for the individual, or what's right for the business?
It's easy to say at first glance, "how could you not side with a player with a serious mental issue?" It's a hard point to argue against. White has to do what's best for him
And let's be clear, unless you've been afflicted with mental illness, you don't know what White is going through. This is a young man with a serious medical issue he's trying to manage.
This is not an issue of an athlete being soft. Mental illness is not something easily understood in the world. It's even less understood in the world of athletics, where machismo is still the norm.
White has been up front from day one about his battle. He's a man trying to get the best treatment for his sickness. White is a huge presence on Twitter, relaying his struggles, both with his anxiety, and his frustration with the Rockets. There's a nobility to that. He seems to want to be an advocate for mental illness. Again, that's not a desirable position in professional sports, but he embraces the role.
But White's candor with his frustration at the organization is potentially a cause for problems.
"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," White said in his released statement on Sunday. "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."
There are very few companies in the workforce that would take kindly to criticism, let alone that public a criticism. The Rockets have been patient to their credit and the party line has been to not comment on White's status other than a generic, "he's not part of the team right now."
White went even further on Sunday.
"An image of support has been presented by the Rockets, but the only logical support here would be listening to the recommendation of the medical professionals involved," he said. "That has not totally happened here. 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."
Again, that's a fair point, but where's the breaking point for the Rockets?
Taken 16th, there's some expectation for White's success. Granted, it's not like the Rockets are banking on White as a cornerstone for the franchise's growth, but No. 16 is not a draft slot where you can jettison the player 30 games into the first season.
Nikola Vucevic was the 16th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He's contributing pretty solidly for the Orlando Magic. Marreese Speights and Nick Young were recent No. 16 picks and they're both professional bench assets.
Hedo Turkoglu was taken 16th. He's had a great NBA career. In 1999, the Chicago Bulls selected Ron Artest 16th, and now, Metta World Peace is a major piece of a team that has realistic championship aspirations.
John Stockton went No. 16 in the 1984 Draft. He's in the Hall of Fame.
Yet, for all of those names, there are Rodney Carney, Joey Graham, Kirk Snyder and Troy Bell. That quartet went in that pick from 2003-06. All four are out of the NBA.
The point is, White was no lock to make a huge impact, so there's wiggle room for the Rockets if he doesn't pan out.
Houston signed White to a contract worth over $1 million a season. That's a sizable enough commitment that GM Daryl Morey can expect more than what he's gotten from White in a strict basketball sense.
According to reports, the Rockets aren't willing to give up on White yet. They shouldn't. There has to be something that can be worked out here.
But it will take compromise. The Rockets clearly aren't meeting the treatment needs of White. If they believe he is worth it, they should acquiesce to White's needs.
On White's end, he doesn't need to do anything unless he is prepared to. But he also has to be prepared to see the business end of it from the Rockets' perspective. The hammer could fall and White could be out of the Houston organization.
(Free advice to White would be to take the D-League assignment. Less travel -- flying is an issue -- and less media presence could increase comfort level.)
White has a right to seek employment and treatment. At some point though, maybe he'll have to ponder the reality that the NBA is not the best avenue for him to pursue.
There's no easy solution.