ORLANDO, Fla. — D.J. White's self-belief has never wavered. Not even in the least.
And he's had plenty of reasons to see it rattled. From a benign growth in his jaw during his rookie season, to a thumb injury and being leapfrogged in the rotation as a sophomore, White has gone through the gamut of what generally keeps playing time out of reach.
"I feel that when I do get a chance to get on the court, I'm capable of doing good things," White said Thursday after getting an off day from Game 4 of the team's five-game summer league schedule. "All I can do is go into training camp and try to crack the rotation."
Such sentiments are reserved for rookies, not third-year players such as White. Yet that's precisely the predicament in which White finds himself. In his first two seasons, White has appeared in only 19 games, logging a grand total of 231 minutes. With the passing of each month, White's career has tiptoed further from the decorated years he carved out at Indiana, where he earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 2008 before becoming the 29th overall pick.
White's third season now appears to be a make or break year in Oklahoma City — if management considers him skilled enough to keep around beyond this summer.
It could be a pressure-filled time. But the ever-mellow White insists the circumstances haven't gotten to him.
"That's what you live for is to play under pressure," White said.
Only White is a ways away from playing. Barring an outstanding training camp and preseason in October, White figures to enter the regular season fourth on the depth chart at power forward, behind starter Jeff Green, veteran reserve Nick Collison and second-year man Serge Ibaka. With Nenad Krstic and rookie Cole Aldrich at center, the front court has become overcrowded.
The stable of big men could not have bulged at a worst time for White.
Because White is in his third season, league rules prohibit the Thunder from assigning him to the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League. That means general manager Sam Presti must soon make a decision on White, either now or during the season if he hasn't hurdled the competition.
"This is my third year here, and I understand it's part of the business," White said.
There was a but.
"I'm still young," White reminded. "I'm still young just like the other guys. I'm 23 so I've got a lot of room to develop."
It's a fact, one that makes White so tempting even as the roster continues to swell with talent.
White has put his offensive arsenal on display in Orlando, burying mid-range jumpers with ease and finishing around the basket with craftiness and consistency. When White got heavy playing time with the 66ers, he averaging 20.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in 10 games last season. There's no doubt he'll never be a 20-point, 10-rebound guy in the NBA, but he's got the tools to be a presence.
"He's going to put the ball in the basket," said Thunder assistant coach and acting coach for summer league Brian Keefe.
In the past, it had been White's sub par defense that kept him off the court. The Thunder wants to be a defensive-minded ballclub, and White's man and team defense was lacking. But, with the exception of a poor performance against Celtics forward Luke Harangody on the opening day of summer league, White has proven he's improved defensively.
"I think his pick-and-roll defense has improved," Keefe said. "His ability to defend the post has improved. And those are the things that he wanted to work on and he wanted to focus on and he's gotten better at that. I'm happy with that."