As it presently stands, the Houston Rockets are a fringe postseason NBA team with the youth to out-tempo a majority of their opponents. They're also a team that is struggling to maintain consistency due to their inconsistent rotation.
For this reason, Royce White's return is key to Houston taking the next step.
History would tell us that, should White return in 2013, he will see minimal playing time during his first year with the team. Head coach Kevin McHale has a long history of delegating his rookies to D-League stints and bench roles.
As for White, he has been away from the Rockets since November 2. In that time, the rookie forward has been attempting to resolve issues in reference to his severe anxiety.
According to Mark Berman of Fox 26, White is preparing to begin working out with a member of the Rockets coaching staff.
Rockets rookie forward Royce White says he'll begin working with a member of the team's staff next week at Toyota Center.— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) December 21, 2012
This is certainly an encouraging sign considering White and the Rockets have had such a turbulent ride in 2012-13.
Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com reported in October that White had missed the opening days of training camp, citing a fear of flight. White proceeded to request that he travel by bus to road games, which sparked controversy within the organization.
Berman later reported that White claimed he's "hopeful" that he will be able to play for the Rockets this season.
Royce White says he is "hopeful" he will be able to play 4 the Rockets again this year. "I want to play for the Rockets more than anything."— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) December 21, 2012
Whether or not he will play is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Rockets need to end this fiasco, one way or another.
The best-case scenario would be to have White return and contribute with his rare versatility.
Can the Houston Rockets move forward without deciding on Royce White's future?
Building for the Future, Part I: D-League
Mark Berman of My Fox Houston reported in November that Royce White had been delegated to the D-League for developmental purposes. White responded by holding out of practice and claiming that the Rockets had disrespected their agreement.
Whether the former Iowa State standout wants to accept it or not, going through the D-League is the only rational option. McHale did it with Marcus Morris in 2011-12, who has now stepped into the role of a key reserve in 2012-13 (via The Houston Chronicle).
White may be an extraordinary talent, but that doesn't mean he's NBA-ready. It also doesn't lead one to the belief that he will be starting over proven commodities such as Chandler Parsons or Patrick Patterson.
As for veteran forwards Carlos Delfino and Marcus Morris, they've paid their dues. It's a pattern White must follow.
Building for the Future, Part II: Chemistry
When the Houston Rockets drafted both Royce White and Terrence Jones in 2012, they made a statement about the direction of their franchise.
Much like their choice in 2011, Morris, White and Jones are capable of playing both forward positions. This signaled Houston's embrace of the small-ball strategy, as versatility is the key to their rotation.
Bringing in uptempo guards such as Jeremy Lin and James Harden further solidified that approach.
Whether or not White can elevate the Rockets on a two-way front is unclear. What is certain, however, is that the Rockets need their rookie forward available to build team chemistry.
With the Rockets' status as the youngest team in basketball, it is imperative that their players are in practice developing chemistry with one another. Removing one individual from that process is the perfect way to delay progression.
Until White returns, that's all Houston will be doing.
Some will jump in and claim that White's absence is not as detrimental as the media is making it seem. The fact of the matter is, White being away from the team creates one very important future issue.
Should White return, the Rockets will need to alter the minutes distribution within their rotation—nearly 30 games into the season.
Now if that's not a distraction, what is?
The off-the-court issues could be summed up as nonfactors to a team that has embraced its present identity. This holds even more truth when you consider that White hasn't yet established himself as a "teammate."
After all, 11 players are in their first year with the team. Furthermore, White made his preseason debut on October 15 and hasn't seen the floor since October 26.
With that being said, the organization can't help but wonder how they're going to accommodate his return.
Both from a traveling and rotational standpoint, the future under coach McHale is rather clouded. Every bit of progress they have made has come with an asterisk due to the questions about where White fits in.
For better or worse, the Rockets can't move forward until White returns.