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Veteran Dante Cunningham brings size, defense to Nets

Dante Cunningham #44 of the Brooklyn Nets looks

Dante Cunningham #44 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on against the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Dante Cunningham became the newest Net Saturday night at Barclays Center when he essentially moved from the visitors’ locker room housing the Pelicans, his former team, to the home locker room. Then he donned the No. 44 Nets jersey previously worn by Tyler Zeller, whose trade to Milwaukee started the chain of events that led to Cunningham’s acquisition on Thursday at the NBA trade deadline.

Cunningham played 19 minutes against New Orleans in Saturday’s double overtime loss and had two points with five rebounds.

The Nets shipped Rashad Vaughn, who was acquired along with a conditional second-round pick in the Zeller deal, to New Orleans for Cunningham. The Pelicans then waved Vaughn, clearing approximately $400,000 of salary cap room. Cunningham was available to play against the Pelicans after studying the Nets’ plays earlier in the afternoon.

Describing what he knew about the Nets, Cunningham said, “They play hard every night, and they’re in every game. They’re at the rim, they’re making the right plays. That’s what I like . . . I’m glad to be here, glad to be with a bunch of guys that are eager to go.”

Nets general manager Sean Marks had unique insight into Cunningham because they briefly played together at Portland during the 2010-11 season. “Dante Cunningham is somebody I’m familiar with,” Marks said. “Dante gives us a positional need, but he also brings us toughness, grit. He’s a veteran. He’s been on playoff teams, he’s been in big moments. I think what he’ll add to our group will be important.”

With starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sidelined by a groin strain, the 6-8, 230-pound Cunningham brings needed size and defensive ability. “That’s what I’m known for, guarding whoever and just giving it all that I’ve got,” Cunningham said.

Marks also addressed the decision by Jeremy Lin, who is recovering from patella tendon surgery, on Thursday to exercise his player option for the final season of his contract worth $12.5 million. “It’s certainly something we expected,” Marks said. “We talked about it for quite some time with his representatives. That was definitely no surprise.”

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