Royce White Is the Type of Risk L.A. Clippers Must Take

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2015

Houston Rockets' Royce White before a preseason NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

No one knows what to make of Royce White, and that's exactly why he's worth taking a risk on in NBA summer league.

White's story is a rare one, the journey of a former top prospect who went 16th in the 2012 draft only to rack up nine total NBA minutes before an anxiety disorder contributed to him leaving the league. Now, he's on his way back, and after weeks of speculation, we finally know his first step:

The Clippers—an expected destination because of the weeks of rumors, such as this one from 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson (h/t ProBasketballTalk), but also a surprising one because of more recent developments.

With Fred Hoiberg coming to the Chicago Bulls, it felt like a guarantee White's first move would be to head to Chicago's summer league team. How could there possibly be a better basketball or personality fit out there for a man who's struggled on a personal level to find the right NBA mold?

White played for Hoiberg at Iowa State. They know each other. And most importantly, Hoiberg realizes the proper environment to build around a kid who was one of the best players in the nation while running for him in Ames.

But maybe that's some of the advantage of the Clippers switching over to the smaller Orlando Summer League. (They have always been solely Las Vegas Summer League participants until this summer.) Playing in the shorter league, which has only 10 teams, provides less competition for sought-out prospects, considering players without contracts are more than welcome to partake in both summer leagues.

White could still presumably join the summer Bulls, or any other Las Vegas Summer League affiliate for that matter, out west if he wanted to, though there have been no indications at the moment that would be the case.

So the Clips have a legitimate starting piece for their OSL team, a man who will almost certainly be the best talent on the floor. But the questions remain, what kind of shape is he in? And can he be comfortable?

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

There isn't much risk with bringing White down to Disney World to play a week of ball. What's the worst-case scenario here? It flops, and the Clippers don't continue their relationship with him beyond Orlando.

The hope, though, goes a little differently.

It's been a few years since his final days at Iowa State, so it's easy to hear the name "Royce White" and immediately think of the issues he had adapting to the NBA with the Houston Rockets, who drafted him, or anyone else he spoke to upon making his return.

Heck, maybe you haven't even heard of the man who could've gone higher than 16th had he not been straightforward about his disorder.

Back in his Iowa State days, the now 24-year-old was basically the collegiate version of LeBron James Lite, mostly because of his brawn and playing style.

He was a 6'8", 270-pound power forward who essentially ran the Cyclones offense. He could pass out of the high post, in penetration and on the break. He would grab defensive rebounds and go coast-to-coast or find teammates running with him in the lanes. He could finish around the rim powerfully.

The issues (on the court) came as a shooter. White didn't have a jumper, and we haven't seen evidence of that changing in his outlandishly small sample size of three NBA and 20 D-League games. But you can't view White now the way you may have when he was coming out of college. The expectation has to be different.

When he was a potential top-10 prospect in his draft class, the lack of shooting was a knock on him. Now, his playmaking ability is just a perk for a guy who's become one of seemingly thousands of fringe NBAers.

The Clips aren't looking for someone to help the future of their franchise; they'll be ecstatic if they can find a pro-caliber big man who can be a capable backup 4 during the upcoming season.

Coming off a year during which they played with six legitimate rotation players, the Clippers need depth any way they can find it. Strapped down without much (or any) cap room (depending on DeAndre Jordan's free-agent decision), they'll have to search unconventional paths to find the best hidden talent. Summer league supplies one of those roads.

It's unfair to speculate from the outside on White's past, if only because, with details as subtle and individual as mental health ones, the specifics are all that matter. And frankly, we're unable to know them without being there.

What we do know, though, is that Doc Rivers could be as proper a coach as any to create the right locker room atmosphere. Or that, from a basketball perspective, Blake Griffin could be as appropriate a mentor as any given the similarities in his size and playmaking style to White's.

If all goes right, the Clippers have themselves a young big man with promise to play behind Griffin and (hopefully) Jordan. If it goes poorly, they just let him walk. L.A. is giving itself an opportunity to hone talent. What more could you ask for an organization to do with its summer league team?

Follow Fred Katz on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of June 15 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Contract information courtesy of Basketball Insiders.

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