Brooklyn Nets' Dante Cunningham Bringing Much-Needed Toughness Since Arrival

The Nets' newest addition has quickly made an impact since his acquisition

BROOKLYN – In just a short period of time, Dante Cunningham has emerged an important member of Kenny Atkinson’s rotation on the Nets.

Since his arrival in a trade with the Pelicans on deadline day, the 30-year-old has played four games and has averaged 8.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists while shooting 53.8 percent in 21.8 minutes per game. He’s been drawing positive reviews from Atkinson and the Nets’ locker room due to his tenacity, grit and veteran presence. If it sounds familiar, it should.

“He kind of reminds us of that energy that Trevor [Booker] brought for us,” Allen Crabbe told BrooklynNets.com at his charity event in Red Hook. “Like Trevor, he’s 6-foot-8 and he’s down there battling with 6-foot-11 or 7-footers.

“It’s just that grit and that toughness that it doesn’t matter how big the person is, he’s going to go out there and play hard and bring energy. I feel like that’s what he brings for us.”

The Nets traded Booker to the Sixers in a move that landed them Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a future second rounder on Dec. 7. Still, there’s no denying Brooklyn missed some of the intangibles that Booker brought on a nightly basis. In addition, his exit left the team with four centers (Okafor, Jarrett Allen, Timofey Mozgov and Tyler Zeller) and only one player, Quincy Acy, who would be considered a traditional power forward. Cunningham’s arrival helped resolve some of the balance issues on the team.

“I think adding Dante to the mix, who really doesn’t know what he’s doing [yet], he’s playing pretty well. He’s what we needed,” Atkinson said. “Great job by Sean [Marks], we needed that. We lost Zeller, just a veteran guy that’s got experience, and then to replace him with Dante I think is a great move.”

Cunningham, for his part, has appreciated a chance for a fresh start in Brooklyn after reportedly requesting a move away from the Pelicans after his minutes were impacted by Nikola Mirotic's arrival. 

“Honestly, it’s been great,” Cunningham said after Friday’s practice. “The guys have opened up 110 percent. Coaching staff is awesome here. It’s definitely a fun place to play. We’re going through a little drought right now, but everyone is in high spirit. We’re just trying to get better every day.”

Despite coming from a team that is fighting for a playoff spot to one that’s currently in a season-high eight-game losing streak, Cunnningham sees a lot of positives in his new situation.

“I look around the locker room and see a lot of young guys, but hungry guys and I love it,” Cunningham said. “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.”

He insists he’s focused on getting the Nets back on track and believes with a few tweaks, the team can end its recent woes.

“We all, myself included, just have to do the little things to win,” Cunningham explained. “We’re always right there, we always claw our way back…[Players need to say] I have to stop making so many mistakes as a whole. Cut those back. That’s when I think we’ll take off.”

With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert set to return to action after missing 15 games combined, Cunningham’s role off the bench might change slightly. But make no mistake, he will have a significant role – he’s earned that.

“I think we’ve been good with him on the court; that’s really the main thing,” Atkinson said. “I’ve got to get to know him better as a person, but I’ve always liked him as a player. I’ve always had a fondness. I’ve always liked how he competed and how tough he was. Great vet for us, he’s fit in really well.”

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