Dante Cunningham was the second-oldest player — only behind DeMarre Carroll — to take the floor for the Nets in their 111-96 loss at Charlotte Thursday, a fact that wasn’t lost on him.
“I’m old in here,” Cunningham, 30, in his ninth NBA season, said with a laugh Friday at the Nets’ HSS Training Facility in Brooklyn. “I look around the locker room and it’s a lot of young guys, but hungry guys and I love it. I love that I’m the older guy they kind of look up to.”
His play Thursday didn’t reflect a player solely around to provide advice, though. Cunningham led the team with 22 points and 12 rebounds. He shot 8-for-12, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers in 27 minutes off the bench. It was twice as many points as he scored in any game this season and tied his career-high in three-pointers made.
Cunningham, who was acquired at the trade deadline for Rashad Vaughn, scored 12 total points in his three previous games with the Nets, averaging 20 minutes per contest.
He admitted he wasn’t expecting to play as much as he has, but with injuries to players like starting forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and guard Caris LeVert, the veteran has taken on a larger role.
“I just came in willing and wanting to work, where right now, I guess we’re just shorthanded a couple of guys,” Cunningham said. “And I kind of just happened to fit a couple different roles.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson liked what he knew about Cunningham before the acquisition and the physical, veteran presence the forward provides.
“He’s been around the league,” Atkinson said of the former Villanova standout. “So for him to adapt to a situation like this is probably easier than a 22-year-old.”
And the Nets (19-41), despite being mired in an eight-game losing streak and dropping 12 of their last 13 contests, have posted a positive plus/minus ratio with Cunningham on the floor in two of his four games, and an even ratio with him in all four games combined.
“I think we’ve been good with him on the court,” Atkinson said. “That’s the main thing.”
With the Nets searching for their first victory since January 31, positives have been hard to come by and they hope Cunningham can help the team on and off the court.
“We just got to call it what it is,” Atkinson said. “We’re in a downward trend right now and I think it’s so important we get it back [up].”