No one’s sure of how long he’ll be here, but Dante Cunningham is off to a great start with the Nets since arriving before the trade deadline ... and he’s happy to be in Brooklyn.
“Honestly, it’s been great,” Cunningham after Friday’s practice, talking about his time with the Nets thus far. “The guys have opened up 110 percent. Coaching staff is awesome here. It’s definitely a fun place to play – my aim was to come in and help the coach and the players with whatever they needed, whether that’s five minutes or 30 minutes. Whatever they need from me is what I’m willing to give.”
In Cunningham’s four games with the Nets, he’s been solid, providing a reliable reserve option on the interior, where the team has been forced to live without starting forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who’ll occupy much of the same re estate upon his return.
But for now, it’s Cunningham’s show, with the Nets most recent outing serving as his season’s highlight reel and perhaps the best individual performance of his career.
In the Nets’ loss to the Hornets, Cunningham put up 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in less than 27 minutes of play off the bench. Cunningham nearly topped his career-highs of 23 points and 14 rebounds, respectively. He did hit 4-of-7 from deep and that was a career high. In the Hornets game and vs. the Pacers eight days before the break, he showed off a nice all-around game. Against Indy, he racked up a six-point, seven-assist performance.
The 30-year-old, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent come July, is playing for his future, but enjoying his present.
The losing hasn’t bothered Cunningham either. He says that when coming over to join the Nets, the ongoing skid never worried him, and he’s just looking to fit his role and leave an impression on the youthful club. Cunningham is older than every Net except for Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll, both of whom turn 32 in July.
“I’m old in here [smirks],” he said. “I look around the locker room and see a lot of young guys, but hungry guys and I love it. I love that I’m the older guy that they kind of look up to and kind of ask, ‘so what’s this like or what’s that like?’ So that’s kind of fun, it’s a different side.”
Kenny Atkinson says Cunningham is benefiting from the Nets’ trademark freedom. He also said he’s been a longtime fan of the combo forward, whose also had stops in Portland, Charlotte, Memphis, Minnesota, and New Orleans before landing in Brooklyn.
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s been around the league, so for him to adapt to a situation like this is probably easier than a 22-year-old,” Atkinson said. “He’s kind of seen a lot of different systems. Let’s be honest, there’s not 80 different ways of playing this game. It’s still who you are as a player. He’s in really good shape, that’s impressive, for a guy who wasn’t played a lot, that he’s kept his body right, and he’s in good shape.
“He’s got a lot of pop right now,” added Atkinson. “I’m not surprised. I told him today we’ve got to watch more film and do more script because he still doesn’t grasp exactly what we’re doing. In a couple of pick-and-roll coverages he’s doing New Orleans’ coverages instead of our coverages – it looks like he’s a guy who picks up things really quick.”
Regarding what Cunningham has asked about the system, Atkinson (semi) joked that Cunningham told him ‘don’t play me 17 minutes straight,’ in reference to Thursday night.
The Nets are still searching for what works, but Cunningham seems to be coming on at the right time, and soon enough, he’ll be joined by Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, giving the Nets the most depth up front as they’ve had all season.
- Dante Cunningham jokes he’s one of the old guys, but he’s been a fresh addition - Owen O’Brien - Newsday