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Cunningham ‘excited’ by opportunities in Brooklyn

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Dante Cunningham didn’t put up big numbers in his Brooklyn Nets debut but they were solid —two points, two assists, two steals as well as five rebounds in 19 minutes. More important, his plus/minus number was a game-high +21. Much of his time on the court came during the Nets big comeback.

Not bad for a guy who arrived Saturday and had only three hours with the team playbook. He came to Brooklyn from New Orleans in a deadline deal Thursday, so he knew a bit about the opponent.

Before the game, he had another debut, this one with the media. It was their first chance to speak with him since he was traded to Brooklyn for Rashad Vaughn (who the Pelicans cut just before they took the court at Barclays Center.)

Cunningham, 30, identifies as a stretch 4 who brings energy, toughness, veteran experience and depth where the Nets need it the most. Kenny Atkinson had already expressed is favorable thoughts toward the move at Friday’s team practice, and Saturday afternoon, Cunningham showed a similar excitement and optimism about joining the Nets, whom he praised for their competitiveness.

“I’m glad to be with a bunch of guys that’s eager to go,” he told reporters. “They played hard every night, they’re in every game. They go out there and their heads are down. They’re at the rim, they’re making the right plays, that’s what I like.”

The 6’9” Villanova product is having a bit of a down season, watching his scoring average dropped from 6.6 points to 5.0 points per game, one lower than his career average. After shooting 48.5% from the field and 39.2% from three last season, Cunningham’s shooting has dipped to 44.0% from the field, 32.4% from deep, and he’s been shuffled in and out of the starting line-up (51 games, 24 starts). Before a DNP just before he was traded, he had started his last four appearances with the Pelicans.

Cunningham said he wasn’t surprised by the trade, and says that the Pelicans had informed him of the possibility.

“I’m not the head guys up there that make those decisions. So I’m not sure. They saw something and they were making a move for it I guess,” he said. “Maybe a week or so (ago) I got pulled in and told I was on the trading block.”

Cunningham was also a teammate of Nets GM Sean Marks in Portland and in Charlotte. The two were even traded together in 2011. Cunningham said Marks being a Net only added to his excitement to this new beginning.

“I was very happy about that,” said Cunningham. “I played with him years ago. It’s good that we’ve made a good bond going forward. (He told me) just come with your hard-hat on, ready to go. (He said they’re) a bunch of young guys who are just going to play hard.”

In terms of being up to speed, Cunningham says that he had just gone over plays earlier that afternoon. But from what he knows, and he’s heard, he loves the Brooklyn way of pace-and-space.

“We’re trying to pick up the pace here, a lot less, I guess, play calling and more kind of read and react,” he said. “I definitely like that idea (of stretching the floor). I’ve been all over as a player, I’m a ballplayer, I need to be on the court.”