Royce White is working out for the Sacramento Kings and may sign with them this week. (The team has officially added Orlando Johnson; it's unclear whether that will prevent adding White as well.) As a Kings fan, I naturally hope it works out for the team and White should they join up. As a realist who has watched White's NBA career implode without actually starting, I'm skeptical it will amount to anything.
There's one reason, though, to hold out hope beyond the simple "anything can happen" narrative.
White was drafted by Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets in 2012. As White battled publicly with Morey over how the franchise helped the rookie deal with his mental health issues, the GM quickly realized drafting White was a mistake. Not necessarily because White couldn't be an NBA player, but because the franchise was not equipped to convince White to actually become a functioning member of an NBA team. White was consistently combative and aired the issue out on social media. He got in a productive month in the D-League last season, but never played for the Rockets during the regular season.
I am Royce White
I am Royce White
This past summer, after White's eventful rookie season, the Rockets traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers for basically nothing. The interesting wrinkle is that Philly's GM Sam Hinkie was Morey's deputy in Houston for a long stretch, including during the 2012 draft. It stands to reason that as a front row observer of the White saga, Hinkie knew what he was getting himself into.
Hinkie cut White before the regular season even began. (He got some preseason minutes.) Months later, in an attempt at self-deprecation, Morey made a case that the White pick was the worst in the history of the NBA Draft.
There are two ways to view why Hinkie traded with his old boss and close friend for a prospect he knew first-hand was a problem.
1. Hinkie still believed in White. The murmurs have always been that coach Kevin McHale had pushed for drafting White after working him out, but it seems unlikely that the Morey-Hinkie front office would use a valuable first-round pick to appease a coach going nowhere. Morey and, by extension, Hinkie were almost assuredly intrigued by White. Most GMs were, based on commentary leading up to the draft. But a number of them passed on him for "safer" picks.
When Hinkie took the White problem off of Morey's hands, was it an attempt to buy low on a prospect he had seen plenty of first-hand, a low-risk high-reward gambit? Did he think he could do what his friend Morey could not, which is get White onto the NBA team? If so, was that just optimism or delusion?
2. Hinkie helped Morey out by disappearing his friend's mistake.
Morey would have been pilloried had he waived White outright before the 2013-14 season, even in the quest for enough cap space to sign Dwight Howard. Morey joked to season ticket holders about White being the worst pick ever; it'd be a lot less funny if White had been waived by Morey directly. That he was able to trade away White (packaged with cash to cover White's salary and rights to a Turkish player) removes Morey from the failure just a touch.
More importantly, the fact that White was given a chance somewhere else and failed puts this failure on White's shoulders. That White failed on one of the most overmatched teams in recent NBA history is an extra chip on the stack. And if it's Royce White's fault that Royce White isn't in the NBA, then it's not Daryl Morey's fault.
If Morey had waived White, a reasonable person could see fault on both sides: White was too hard to work with, and Morey was unable to navigate a difficult situation. When White washes out with a second team, White gets hung 100 percent with the bad reputation. That lessens the hit to Morey's rep. That reasonable person shifts from "both sides failed" to "White has proven to be unworkable."
What if Hinkie never intended for White to work out in Philadelphia? What if Hinkie intended to drop White all along, and did the deal only as a favor to the guy most responsible for Hinkie becoming an NBA GM (excluding Hinkie himself)?
We'll never know if that was the case. Even if it is, it'd be par for the course in the NBA, no great scandal. But because it's a possibility, it gives us reason to believe that White isn't destined to be a washout, that he can make it work once separated from Morey's orbit.
And that's what matters here, because Morey and Hinkie will be fine regardless. The only thing at risk right now is Royce White's career.