Another NBA trade deadline in the rearview mirror, general manager Sean Marks addressed the Brooklyn Nets' latest moves and the newest Net, Dante Cunningham, was introduced before the Nets took on the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night at Barclays Center.
Marks made two moves during the week, first trading Tyler Zeller to Milwaukee for guard Rashad Vaughn and a second-round draft pick, then flipping Vaughn to New Orleans in the hours before Thursday's deadline for veteran forward Dante Cunningham.
"It was probably similar to a lot of deadlines," said Marks. "You gauge interest around the league and you try and make your team better if you can and when you can, but staying true to the goals that have been outlined over the course of the last 18 months."
The immediate impact was adding a versatile forward to the mix. The Nets have been thin at the power forward spot with starter Rondae Hollis-Jefferson missing his eighth straight game with a groin injury on Saturday night, having last played on Jan. 26.
In his ninth NBA season, Cunningham brings experience and has routinely played both forward spots and shown an expanded perimeter game over the last few seasons, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range in 2016-17.
"Versatility. Gives us some depth at the 4 - 5 and 3 - because he's a versatile guy, he can play all three positions," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "Solid character. Plays hard. Has an edge about him. I've always been an admirer. He's a good pickup for us. I think we got a little better by adding him. Definitely gives us more depth. We've obviously been a little short-handed at the 4."
And Cunningham goes back a bit with the Nets GM. Marks was in the final year of his 11-year NBA career in Portland when Cunningham, an early-second round pick, played his rookie season with the Blazers in 2010-11.
"Dante Cunningham is somebody I'm familiar with and I think our whole group is familiar with," said Marks. "With Rondae being out right now and losing Tyler as well, Dante gives us a positional need, fills that little bit of a void there. But he also brings us toughness, grit. He's a veteran. He's been on multiple teams. He's been on playoff teams. He's been in big moments. And I think what he'll add to our group will be important."
After playing for four teams in his first five seasons, Cunningham had built a steady role for himself in New Orleans, starting 132 of 203 games he played for the Pelicans over three-and-a-half seasons, including 24 starts this year.
Nevertheless, he said, he had been given a heads up a week before the deadline that it was possible he would be moved.
He spoke with Marks shortly after the trade, and had a positive take on what he's seen of his new team.
"They play hard," said Cunningham. "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, and that's what I like."
After running through the Nets' plays just a few hours before game time, he also had a pretty good read on the locker room.
"I guess I'm an elder statesman in here," said the 30-year-old, one of only three players on the roster past his 20s.
Essentially, the Nets exchanged the 7-foot center Zeller for the 6-8 forward Cunningham, who can also slot in to the center spot if necessary.
Signed as a free agent in September, Zeller had started 33 of the 42 games he had played for the Nets averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.6 percent. He had also been a helpful mentor for rookie Jarrett Allen, who replaced him in the starting lineup in late January.
"It's always difficult to see a guy move, especially a guy like Tyler who did everything we asked him to do," said Marks. "Worked hard, developed himself. All the old clichés of first guy in the gym, last guy to leave sort of thing, he was that. But this is a great opportunity for him. He gets to go to a playoff team. Milwaukee wanted him. Wanted him badly. And that sort of reflected in what they had to give up to get him."
In addition, guard Jeremy Lin declared this week that he was opting in to the final year of his three-year contract with its $12.5 million salary. The guard has been sidelined since injuring the patellar tendon in his right knee on opening night against Indiana and undergoing surgery.
"It's certainly something we expected," said Marks. "We talked about it for quite some time now with his representatives. That was definitely no surprise."