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Atkinson says new addition Cunningham will help fortify thin frontline

Brooklyn Nets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Although he Nets acquisition of Dante Cunningham got done Thursday afternoon, and was officially announced later that night, the 30-year-old combo forward was not at team practice on Friday, and won’t be in Brooklyn until later this weekend, when they play the Pelicans, his former team.

In any event, Cunningham has landed, or is about to, in Brooklyn, via trade, at the cost of legendary Net Rashad Vaughn, who posted an unforgettable four minutes in his lone appearance with the team earlier this week. Coincidentally, Vaughn will be with the Pelicans on Saturday, his new team, opposite Brooklyn. It’s a business, you know.

Kenny Atkinson had high praise for the 6’8”, 230-pound nine-year veteran, who was with the Pelicans from the 2014-15 season until Thursday, his longest run with a single team in the league. Cunningham has also been with the Trail Blazers, who drafted him 33rd overall in 2009, Bobcats, Grizzles and Timberwolves. In Portland and in Charlotte, he was a teammate of Sean Marks, and was even traded with the Nets General Manager (and Joel Przybilla) to the Bobcats for Gerald Wallace.

”I think he gives us some depth obviously,” Atkinson said of Cunningham. “I think with guys being in and out it just gives us more depth there. Love his toughness, he’s versatile, he can play the 4 or the 3, it just gives us a little more depth.

“I think it makes us a little bit better. I always respected how he played. Sean played with him, which is amazing, that’s the great thing about having Sean as a GM. Sean played with him, knows him, knows what type of guy he is, he’s a really good guy. I think he’ll fit into what we’re doing.”

Atkinson also thinks the move smooths out the frontcourt just a bit, which had been thinning with an injury to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, inactivity from Timofey Mozgov, and a previous deal including Tyler Zeller.

“I do think it balances the glut we had at the center position,” said Atkinson. “Obviously we’ve had to start DeMarre Carroll at the 4, which is okay, but I don’t think we could live on that. That’s a beck of a task for DeMarre to have to play Blake Griffin 35 minutes of the game, especially against a big line up. Dante is a legit 4, he started at the 4.”

Atkinson says that, while it is “to be determined” if Cunningham will start, we should expect to see him receive a healthy amount of minutes once he’s brought up to speed on what the Nets style. The head coach also likes what he’s heard about Cunningham, who shot 39% from three last season and averages 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds through 629 career NBA games.

“Tough guy, great locker room guy, quiet, which is good with me,” Atkinson said with a slight chuckle. “Competitor, versatile, he shot 39% from three. He’s shown that he could shoot the three ball. 4 and 3 on the pick and roll, he’s switchable. I do think he adds to our toughness a little bit.”

As a restricted free agent signed to a one year deal, Cunningham could have vetoed the deal, but instead is headed for Brooklyn.