RENO – The snowpack didn’t amount to much this winter, and during the week downtown Reno is so eerily quiet you can almost hear your sneakers slapping on the sidewalk. But for Royce White, a former first-round draft choice trying to extend his audition with the Kings and kick-start an NBA career, the Developmental League was the perfect place for a do-over.
There was no room for drama, no time for much of anything except practices and games with the Reno Bighorns – the Kings’ D-League affiliate – and conversations with Kings officials who closely monitored his progress throughout the week and recalled him to Sacramento on Thursday night.
This is test, this is only a test. How is his conditioning? How rusty are his skills? Most importantly, how is White coping with an anxiety disorder that leads to panic attacks and a fear of flying that contributed to his nasty breakup with the Houston Rockets, the team that drafted him 16th in 2012 and traded him a year later to Philadelphia. His time with the 76ers ended similarly: He was waived in October 2013 after declining to accompany the team on a preseason trip to Spain.
In the ensuing months, White, whose contract guaranteed him $1.8 million and $1.6 million for his first two years, has been looking for another job, looking toward the Las Vegas summer league and beyond. Reluctant to offer much detail after the Bighorns lost 95-86 to the Austin Toros on Tuesday night, the Minnesota native said he hopes to join a team that needs his unusual combination of skills and is willing to accommodate his mental health concerns.
While intrigued by White’s talent, the Kings are not peering too far into the future. General manager Pete D’Alessandro described the organization’s approach as cautious and “day by day.”
“I see Royce as a mature guy who is trying to get where he needs to go,” D’Alessandro said. “There is untapped potential. Can he get there? That’s really going to be up to him. I have to give him credit. A lot of players would not have been willing to come to the D-League, and we spoke about that from the beginning. And he’s already come in here and done some good things. We’ll look at the full 10 days, then make a decision on where to go from there.”
Given White’s performances with the Bighorns – he had 10 points in 18 minutes in Tuesday’s loss and 14 points in 27 minutes in Wednesday’s 120-110 victory over the Iowa Energy – it’s likely the Kings will re-sign him to another 10-day contract before they return from their lengthy East Coast trip after Sunday’s game at Minnesota. The Kings next home game is Tuesday against Washington.
While the move is not without risk, one that at least hints at desperation given the Kings’ continued struggles, it is consistent with D’Alessandro’s aggressive approach, one that goes accordingly: Rebuilding franchises have to work harder, pursue all options and try to upgrade the talent by conventional and unconventional means. For now, that means taking a small gamble and bringing White to Sacramento, where he will be introduced to some folks he already knows.
“Some of those guys I grew up with,” he said. “I played against DeMarcus Cousins. Isaiah (Thomas) scored 60 on my AAU team one year in high school, and I obviously watched Ben (McLemore) have a great year in the Big 12. And Rudy (Gay) is the player that he is. So it’s exciting for me.”
The Kings are interested in White, who entered the NBA draft after leading Iowa State in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and being named first team All-Big 12 Conference in 2011-12, because he is extremely bright – he speaks in analytic phrases common of philosophy grad students – and because he has unusual skills for someone his size.
At 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, he has wide shoulders and a thick frame, with most of his length in his upper body. His arms are unusually long and his hands are massive; he cuffs the ball in his palm with almost ridiculous ease. The combination of size, physique and rebounding instincts are consistent with those of a power forward. But his passing and playmaking ability – considered his greatest assets – suggest a hybrid forward. And his passion for distributing the ball is readily apparent with his assortment of outlets, one-bouncers to cutters, lobs for alley-oops.
In a Kings offense anchored by an overabundance of dribblers, his pass-first mindset would be a jolt to the system.
“You see flashes, especially offensively, of something special,” Bighorns coach Joel Abelson said. “Obviously he’s not in great shape. His conditioning isn’t where it needs to be. What’s scary is what he’ll be when he gets in shape. And we haven’t seen any of the stuff that we’ve read about. He’s been a good teammate and easy to coach.”
White’s biggest weakness is his ever-changing jumper. Sometimes the ball appears to get stuck in his palms, leading to a herky-jerky, awkward release. Other times, he releases the ball with his fingertips, generating a high-arching shot with near-perfect rotation. During warmups Tuesday, he airballed a number of free throws and midrange jumpers.
“His shooting is erratic, but interesting,” Abelson added. “He can airball a free throw and go 6 for 8 from the line. It’s all part of why he’s here. Aside from everything you hear, he’s a unique player.”