HOUSTON - A day after there were signs that the Houston Rockets were getting closer to getting first-round pick and Minneapolis-raised Royce White ready to begin his NBA career, the gulf between them seemed as large as ever, with the impasse that has kept them apart as intractable.
The Rockets had assigned White to the NBA Development League affiliate on Saturday, a move they considered to be the second step in a plan to add him to the team. White, however, on Sunday refused the assignment, charging in a statement that the Rockets' decisions would be "unsafe" because of his anxiety disorder.
"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 on Sunday.
"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."
White, 21, did not say what "medical decisions" he believes Rockets officials have made, or if his objection is solely with the assignment to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers or what steps the Rockets have failed to take to create a safe work environment for him.
The Vipers were in Bakersfield, Calif., on Sunday, but White was not expected to report to McAllen until Monday. White also did not attend the Rockets' training camp in McAllen and left the team Nov. 12 when the Rockets indicated to him that they were close to assigning him to their D-League affiliate along with fellow rookies Donatas Motiejunas and Scott Machado. White has been away from the team ever since, initially protesting via a statement and Twitter the Rockets' insistence that he see a doctor they found for him to treat his anxiety disorders.
The Rockets could fine White for failing to report to the Vipers. He has been fined for failing to attend therapy and workout sessions, though those issues have been isolated since White's initial reluctance to see the doctor the Rockets arranged to meet with White last month.
His contract is worth $1.6 million this season and $1.8 million next season, with both seasons guaranteed. If the Rockets cut White without showing cause, he would have to be paid the balance of the guaranteed two seasons of his contract, though they could seek to show he had not fulfilled his contract.
Rockets officials declined comment on Sunday but had hoped to make it work with White. Last month, however, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, speaking at an NBA news conference, seemed prepared for the possibility that White would not succeed in the NBA.
"I'd feel bad for Royce, and I would feel very bad for the team," Alexander said of potentially wasting a first-round pick.
"It's tough to talk about something like that," he said. "I think we're going to handle it internally. If he doesn't work out, well, it's tough to lose a draft choice."