Kevin McHale made the NBA’s all-interview team year after year when he played long ago for the Boston Celtics, and then turned an Irishman’s gift of gab into a successful television commentary career both before and after his 15 years spent leading the Timberwolves organization.
It’s not often he is rendered speechless, but it nearly happened before his Houston Rockets played his former team at Target Center on Wednesday night.
That’s when somebody asked him about a guy named Royce White and McHale for a moment appeared dumbfounded.
“Ooof,” he said. “That’s a good question.”
Minneapolis born and raised, White was the most enigmatic talent in last summer’s draft, a uniquely gifted big man who also came with serious questions about an anxiety disorder and his ability to professionally fulfill the demands of a long, grueling NBA season.
The Rockets wagered the 16th overall pick on him, drafting White based on one season at Iowa State that rehabilitated his image after he was suspended and quit the Gophers without playing a game.
Nearly two months into his rookie season, White still hasn’t played an NBA game.
He remained away from the team since the regular season’s opening days until Saturday, when the Rockets sent him to their Development League affiliate and he agreed to go.
Until Saturday, White’s pro career was put on hold for nearly two months not because of his fear of flying but rather a disagreement with the Rockets over how to handle and treat his anxiety disorder.
He seemingly became persona non grata everywhere but in the Twittersphere, where he took his cause against the Rockets in a nearly daily exchange with followers and others interested observers.
“This is important to me,” he wrote in a statement posted on Twitter in November. “It is a health issue. I must advocate for my rights.”
Many of those followers supported his crusade for mental-illness awareness.
Others who have followed his career and watched him quit the Gophers after being suspended without playing a game offered their opinions, too. They urged him, in no uncertain terms, to stop using his condition as an excuse not to be held accountable for his actions and tell him to go back to work.
McHale said last week he believes White eventually will, although it’s unknown when White will earn his way back from the D League to the Rockets and the NBA.
“I would hope so, I’d assume he would,” McHale said. “But I shouldn’t say anything because I don’t even know. Someone asked me that the other day and I had to pause and go, 'Wow.’ So much stuff going on.”
McHale has had other matters on his mind with a team that remade itself by signing free agents Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin last summer and an October blockbuster trade for James Harden, with a life turned upside down when he took a month’s leave of absence to be with his 23-year-old daughter, Sasha, who died in late November from lupus-related complications.
All of which has given him precious little time to ponder the status and future of a big man who possesses guard skills but comes with so many other issues.
“I don’t know,” McHale said when asked about White’s status. “Royce has kind of been away from us for a while and then I was gone for a while, too. And honestly, to be truthful, he has been kind of, he hasn’t been around. I just haven’t seen. As crazy as it may seem, you just go with the guys who are there. Your focus is on playing.
“In our league, you know how it is: Out of sight, out of mind.”