Diante Garrett spent last season — his first in the NBA — playing for the 25-57 Phoenix Suns, suffering through a rigid organizational overhaul.
His first taste of the professional world was an unenviable one, filled with a midseason coaching change, constant roster turnover and the worst record in the Western Conference.
“We were losing, a lot of changes, a lot of trades, guys getting waived,” Garrett recently recalled. “Just a lot of ups and downs over there.”
But now, as Garrett gets deeper into his second training camp, this time on a non-guaranteed contract with the Thunder, the Iowa State product is on the opposite end of the NBA spectrum.
At nearly five years, his coach is the fourth-longest tenured in the league. His organization, from top to bottom, operates in unison. His teammates, while still young enough for him to relate, are established veterans of the game. And he can sense the difference.
“The environment is way different,” Garrett said. “Here, it's more of a consistent pace, a steady pace, and guys trying to get better every day. So it's good. I feel like I've been getting way better.”
But the question remains: How long can Garrett expect to be in OKC?
When he initially signed with the Thunder, not many viewed him as much more than an extra body for training camp, providing OKC a bonus practice player, while giving Garrett a stage to showcase his ability for other teams.
But the extended absence of Russell Westbrook, and Garrett's strong play in limited preseason minutes, has suddenly made him a viable regular season roster candidate.
Until at least early December, the Thunder need point guard help. Some Russell Westbrook insurance.
Scott Brooks recently said the team would “consider” bringing in a veteran from the outside. But he also hinted at the possibility of keeping Garrett, who was one of the team's most impressive players in a recent intrasquad scrimmage at Westmoore High School, splashing in four of his five 3-pointers.
“I think Diante has done a great job of stepping in and making his impact felt,” Brooks said. “He's done a pretty good job. We still have to make decisions with our roster.”
Besides that well-known shooting ability, which he showcased in college (17.8 points per game, All-Big 12 Second Team honors in 2011), Garrett has also shown impressive court awareness, dishing out six assists in 26 preseason minutes, including a pretty 30-foot bounce pass through traffic against Denver on Tuesday night.
Garrett might make the roster. He might get cut by the weekend. Such is life for an undrafted fringe guy.
But in a few weeks in OKC, he has certainly made an impression.
“He's impressed everybody here with the way he handles the ball, the way he passes and his vision, how he reads plays,” Kevin Durant said. “He's done a great job for us.”