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Newly-arrived veteran Dante Cunningham glad to help lead Nets

Brooklyn Nets forward Dante Cunningham.

Brooklyn Nets forward Dante Cunningham. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

CHICAGO — The Nets are the sixth team for which Dante Cunningham has played in nine NBA seasons, but in the space of a mere two months since joining them at the trade deadline, Cunningham has established himself as one of the team’s veteran leaders along with DeMarre Carroll. Although he’s a free agent after this season, Cunningham has made it clear he’d enjoy putting down roots in Brooklyn.

“I never played with any of these guys, but I’ve known them,” Cunningham said of his new teammates. “From Day 1, they met me with open arms. They helped me out with the plays, helped me around the city. It made the transition a lot easier.”

After missing the previous game with back spasms, Cunningham played his 20th game as a Net against the Bulls Saturday night at United Center. Coach Kenny Atkinson was glad to have his physicality on defense along with his 40.7 percent accuracy from three-point range and veteran leadership.

“He adds a quiet toughness, a professionalism, a seriousness about the way he goes about his work, and he’s just a great example for the young guys,” Atkinson said. “When you see a guy that’s been in the league as long as he has, I think guys respect that. We need those support veterans.”

It might have been tough for Cunningham to leave a playoff contender in New Orleans for a rebuilding team like the Nets, but he sees a future role for himself.

“There’s always something you can add to your game, and in this sense, it would be for me to be a veteran just trying to build a team and be a part of that foundation,” Cunningham said. “That’s awesome. I never actually had to be in that situation, and I’m excited about it. I would love to stick around and continue to help.”

Nets general manager Sean Marks briefly played with Cunningham when he was a second-year player with Portland, so he knew who he was getting. “When we had the opportunity to get him, Sean jumped on it,” Atkinson said. “Sean played with him and knows him. That’s huge. We were plucking him because he’s got all of the characteristics. He’s a better player than I thought he was and more of a system-fit than I thought he was.

“That being said, I don’t want to say anything about going forward. But I’ve really enjoyed having him here. He’s a nice person to be around on a day-to-day basis.”

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