POSTED: Dec 26, 2012 8:54 PM ET
UPDATED: Dec 26, 2012 9:45 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The question seemed to catch Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale totally off guard.
What is Royce White's status with the team?
"Good question," McHale said, taking an extended pause to contemplate his answer. "I don't know. Royce has kind of been away from us."
The 16th overall pick in the June draft hasn't been around all season while he spars with the Rockets on how best to deal with his anxiety disorder and overall mental health. White has been vocal on Twitter, at times expressing frustration with the Rockets' perceived unwillingness to be accommodating to his condition. He tweeted last week that the Rockets had yet to approve a mental health protocol that would allow him to return to work.
"Should I QUIT playing (because of) a (hashtag) MentalHealth protocol isn't in place?" White tweeted. "OR should we PUT 1 in place."
When McHale was asked about White on Wednesday night before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the coach reacted as if the swingman was one of the furthest things from his mind.
"He hasn't been around," McHale said. "I haven't seen him. As crazy as it sounds, you're just kind of going with the guys who are there."
Of course, McHale has had other things on his mind as well. He returned to the team on Dec. 8 after nearly a month away to be with his family following the death of his 23-year-old daughter Sasha. In his first game back in his home state since Sasha's passing, McHale was visibly emotional during pregame introductions, especially when the Wolves honored longtime fan Michael Stephenson, who suffered from cerebral palsy but was befriended by McHale during his time as an executive and a coach here.
So far, the Rockets have been playing pretty well without White, a versatile forward the team drafted out of Iowa State in hopes of adding the multidimensional talents that made him one of the stars of last year's NCAA tournament.
After dropping his first two games back, the Rockets had won four straight and six of their last seven heading into the game against McHale's former team. Greg Smith and Marcus Morris have been pleasant surprises in the frontcourt while Jeremy Lin has started to figure out how to thrive alongside scorer James Harden in the backcourt.
When asked if White would ever be back with the Rockets, McHale replied simply, "I hope so."