He came to town as an unknown on an unlikely mission.
Make the team — a championship caliber team — as a training camp invitee.
DeAndre Liggins did that and more, establishing himself as a tough and tenacious defender before briefly becoming a rotation player.
His next goal?
“I don't know if they want to bring me back,” the second-year Thunder guard said. “I would like to be in OKC. But of course, this is a business.”
The Thunder has the option to bring Liggins back on a non-guaranteed minimum contract worth roughly $884,000. Given the team's rising payroll, which is expected to be right at the tax threshold, it'd be surprising if Liggins didn't return.
After the way Liggins left his imprint, how could the budget-conscious Thunder not bring him back?
“When I displayed the grit, toughness, that's what this organization is about,” Liggins said. “Toughness. Grit. Professionalism. Character. I think I displayed that this year.”
Liggins averaged just 7.4 minutes in 39 games this season. But he made the most of his opportunities, averaging 1.5 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.5 steals. During a month-long stretch from mid-January to mid-February, Liggins joined Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet to form what became a gritty, defensive-minded second unit.
It was in that stretch that Liggins enjoyed his best game as a pro.
With starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha sidelined with a neck strain, Liggins stepped into the first five and scored 11 points with nine rebounds, both career highs, while playing a team- and career-high 39 minutes, 36 seconds.
“He wasn't coming out,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that night. “We needed his energy. He showed that in training camp … that he can make an impact.”
The performance was memorable for Liggins in more ways than one.
Days earlier, his stepfather had passed away.
“I kind of wanted to get him that game and play well and just let it all out,” Liggins revealed after the season. “I think that game I had super confidence. I wasn't looking back. I wasn't over-thinking. I played like I belonged in the NBA that game. That was a great experience for me, too.”
Liggins will compete with the Thunder in this year's Orlando Pro Summer League. It will be another way for him to carve out a role in OKC. He knows this summer will be an important one.
“I'm a guy that will work very hard,” Liggins said. “One thing about me is I exaggerate everything. So if somebody tells me to walk 10 miles I might walk 15.”
It's no surprise then that Liggins envisions himself evolving into an impact player and all-around threat.
“I think I can be an eight-point, five-rebound, five-assist type of guy in this league,” Liggins said. “If I keep working, get stronger, keep working on my weaknesses, I think can be that type of guy, that Thabo type guy; defender who can knock down the open shot.”
For now, the Thunder would like it if Liggins focuses on defense. At 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, he has prototypical size and length to be a pest on the perimeter. He also is in a great position to learn from Sefolosha, something Liggins said he did this season.
By following Sefolosha's lead, Liggins said he began to understand defensive schemes better. He slowly picked up on small things within coverages such as when and when not to help.
“I still have to get better with them,” Liggins said. “And I'm willing to do whatever it takes for me to play in the NBA for a long time.”
Liggins already has the energy and effort part down and that often is half the battle. Now, Liggins said he wants to do everything he can to take the next step.
Watch film. Study opponents. Analyze personnel.
“I'm going to have to start knowing what my opponent ate last night,” Liggins said. “I'm going to have to know. That's my job. If I'm going to be a great defender, I'm going to have know them things. That's what the Bruce Bowens do. All the great defenders do that stuff. That's what I'm going to start doing.
“It's going to take time. It's not easy. Of course, Thabo works his tail off. Defending is not easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it. But it's not easy. You got to have energy You got to have commitment to it.”