It was not easy or even likely for Luke Zeller and Diante Garrett to break into the NBA but they found their way into the league through Phoenix.
The Suns appear to have settled on keeping Zeller and Garrett for a 15-man opening night roster after waiving veteran power forwards Ike Diogu and Solomon Jones on Wednesday. The Suns might not commit to their 15-man roster intentions yet because they have a remaining preseason game Friday night against Denver and opening-night rosters do not have to be submitted to the league office until Monday.
Zeller, 25, will enter the league in the same season as his younger brother Tyler, who was drafted 17th in June and immediately acquired by Cleveland. Another brother, Cody, is a preseason All-America choice for Indiana. The Suns are familiar with NBA brother tandems: Markieff Morris on the current team and Robin Lopez, Jarron Collins and Taylor Griffin over the previous three seasons.
Zeller is a 6-foot-11, 245-pound power forward who can potentially stretch a defense with his perimeter shooting, similar to what Channing Frye brought.
Frye is expected to miss this season with an enlarged heart.
Zeller made only 5 of 18 shots in three preseason appearances but showed 3-point range during Septemberís voluntary workouts and this monthís training camp and practices.
Zeller was in San Antonioís training camp last year despite breaking his nose in a D-League game the night before Spurs camp opened. He played with D-League champion Austin last season but was limited to 24 games because he re-fractured his nose. He averaged 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game for Austin but his stats there or at Notre Dame (4.9 scoring average as a senior captain) will not dazzle you. Coaches appreciate his selfless play and court intelligence, particularly for a player who is not expected to crack the rotation but would be needed if there is an injury to the shallow frontcourt of Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Jermaine OíNeal.
Zeller made 35.5 percent of 3-pointers over two D-League seasons after playing professionally in Japan and Lithuania. He was undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2009.
Zellerís rookie-scale salary made it easier for the Suns to keep Garrett as a fourth point guard. As rookies, both would make $473,604 for a season while Jones or Diogu, as six-year pros, would have received a $1.07 million minimum-level contract with $215,120 of that being offset by a league fund that encourages veteran signings. Keeping Zeller and Garrett costs the Suns only $92,819 more than Jones or Diogu would alone.
Zellerís and Garrettís contracts will not be guaranteed for the year unless they remain on the roster Jan. 10.
Garrett has intrigued the Suns since he was starring at Iowa State, where he averaged 17.3 points and 6.1 assists as a senior in 2010-11. The Suns worked him out before the 2011 draft but he went undrafted and played last season in France, averaging 7.4 points and 3.0 assists in 23.3 minutes per game.
Garrett is slender but fast and long at 6 feet 5 and 190 pounds with a 6-9 wingspan. He will need to improve his strength and his shooting to stick in the league but the Sunsí belief in his upside as a playmaker is evident since they signed Goran Dragic, 26, and drafted Kendall Marshall, 21, at the same position.
Garrett made four preseason appearances, making 4 of 11 shots while delivering 10 assists to two turnovers.