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Welcome, Dante Cunningham

The Pelicans filled one of their vacant roster spots earlier today with a journeyman forward. Can he help?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that the team has signed free agent forward Dante Cunningham. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Cunningham, 6-8, 230, was the 33rd overall pick out of Villanova in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. A five-year veteran, Cunningham has appeared in 366 career NBA games (41 starts) with Portland, Charlotte, Memphis and Minnesota, holding career averages of 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Cunningham will be available for the Pelicans’ game tonight at Golden State. He will wear #44.

New Orleans’ roster stands at 14.

Coming into this season, Dell Demps and the rest of the organization expected to be able to rely on a number of returning reserves. After all, a number of them finished the 2013-14 campaign on positive notes, as witnessed in a number of our player recaps.

Well, sometimes things do not go according to plan and it can be through no fault of a front office. That's just the nature of the NBA. Fortunately, we're blessed with a pro-active general manager; thus, it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that Demps has decided to make some changes now.

After waiving Darius Miller and Patric Young this past Sunday, New Orleans named their first replacement, Dante Cunningham. What can we expect?

A Player That Coaches Trust

In his six years, Cunningham has spent time with five NBA franchises, but don't automatically dismiss him for it. Outside of his rookie season, he has played an important role at each stop, averaging 20 minutes or more a contest with all of them except one (Memphis).

At 6'8'' and 230 pounds Cunningham is a typical forward tweener; subsequently, his best role is as a small ball four. His numbers don't jump off the page as evidenced by a PER that typically hovers below average. He doesn't rebound particularly well and lacks a dynamic offensive game. Normally, he likes to take his shots inside the arc in a lot of pick and pops within the offense. Yeah, that dreaded dead zone.

However, in what he lacks in talent, he makes up for it with intangibles. At every stop, he's been praised for his energy.  Rick Adelmann liked his tenacity and defensive versatility. In Portland, Nate McMillan loved him.

"I love D.C.," McMillan said. "He plays the game the right way. I've heard people talk about Wesley, and how he plays the way I want. Well, D.C. plays the way I want. He's physical, he defends first, and offensively he's pretty solid with his jump shot. But his main thing is he is normally in the right place defensively."

Hehe, yeah, I'm sure the first thing that jumps out at you is that old Monty Williams adage: playing the right way. But in this case, honestly, that's not a bad thing. It's no secret the Pelicans have no depth that Monty trusts to play important, and sometimes any, minutes. In each of Cunningham's stops, this was precisely the reason why he saw so much floor time. Coaches knew they could count on him.

Besides, we should like the idea of adding an intense player. Since Anthony Morrow's departure, no one has been able to replace that missing spark off the bench. Every good playoff hopeful needs a high energy guy, say Taj Gibson with Chicago or Birdman Andersen, in any number of his stops.

In case you have forgotten, Cunningham had himself quite a night against us several years ago: 18 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 turnover. What was most notably was that he never missed! He shot a perfect 9 of 9 from the floor.

Final Thought

Canis Hoopus said it well before the start of last season:

One gets the sense that he is liked by coaches because of his effort and lack of mistakes more than for his positive contributions, which are limited.  He's an average defensive player and below average offensive one, so he isn't significantly helping you in one area.  He's the kind of player who doesn't hurt you too much when you are resting your starters.

At this point, we should all be able to live with that. It will help that Monty Williams is familiar with his game so we should have the expectations of proper deployment. Not to mention, Monty has experience making use of mid-range shooting bigs.

Right now, this team needs that type of stopgap(s). Currently, there is too large of a drop-off from our starters to a number of the reserves. Dare I say it, but what would happen if another starter goes down, particularly a forward?

At this stage of the season, the Pelicans are not going to find any cheap world-beaters, not if they want to keep their core intact. Consequently, the next best thing is to go out and add players that can adequately fill the minutes of when the starters need a break.

As a final note, I think we should all be on board with the idea of giving a reputable good guy a chance. It seems obvious to me that he was framed in his initial domestic charge. Unfortunately, he found himself between a rock and a hard place considering all the domestic abuse news that has come out this year. Even the involved police department admitted as much:

Cunningham urged authorities to pursue charges against Miryah Herron for making false allegations, but Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the AP in October that he was reluctant to do so in part because of the message it could send to victims of domestic violence.

"To what extent all of this impacts his livelihood in the future, I hope it doesn't," Freeman said at the time. "I hope he can go forward and play basketball."

Cunningham's agent, Joel Bell, has worked to try to help his client clear his name, but it's taken some time.

We can hope his ordeal spurs him to take out his frustrations on opponents. That he'll demonstrate a razor-like focus like never before to prove to naysayers it was wrong he was kept helpless through such a difficult time in his life. We should all be more than willing to give him a chance.