Posts Tagged ‘Dante Cunningham’

Cunningham, Pelicans reach out to each other in time of need

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Dante Cunningham spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The Pelicans are struggling to keep their chins above the .500 mark water line in the rugged Western Conference playoff race.

Dante Cunningham was battling to keep his professional career afloat after a charge of domestic assault was filed against him last April.

So perhaps it is fitting that the pair has drifted together in search of mutual benefit.

The 27-year-old forward is expected to join the Pelicans for tonight’s game at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“It’s such a relief,” Cunningham told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I just knew that with the time and the situation that was going on, I kind of had to wait it out and get the right opportunity.”

Cunningham was charged in April with felony domestic assault after his girlfriend at the time accused him of choking her and slamming her head against a wall. She also accused him of sending her threatening messages. The charge was dropped in August after an investigation uncovered inconsistencies in her story.

He was a free agent after his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired at the end of the 2013-14 season. But even after Hennepin County authorities dropped the charge, many teams were reluctant to consider signing him after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal rocked the NFL. Cunningham said he had preliminary talks with a few teams but didn’t get any firm interest while the charge was being investigated.

The Pelicans were one of a number of teams to look at Cunningham, and last week they scheduled a workout. As talks progressed, team officials reached out to the NBA to try to determine whether Cunningham would face any kind of discipline for even being accused of domestic violence.

“We have commenced an independent review of the matter and the charges that were subsequently dropped against Mr. Cunningham, but at this point we have no basis to conclude that he engaged in conduct that warrants discipline from the NBA,” league spokesman Mike Bass said.

The Pelicans are desperate for some offensive help with guard Eric Gordon sidelined by a torn labrum. They had moved Tyreke Evans from small forward to the backcourt and used Darius Miller in the frontcourt. But that didn’t work and Miller was waived.

Cunningham, who spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves, not only has to get back his game legs, but will also have to survive the increased scrutiny that has surrounded the topic of domestic abuse.

You can’t blame many teams that might have had an interest in him from backing away on Cunningham because of the intense focus on his situation specifically and how much the public’s view of domestic abuse in general has changed just in the past year with so many high profile cases.

Yet the sports world is filled with opportunities, from Michael Vick and Ray Lewis in the NFL to Latrell Sprewell and Metta World Peace in the NBA as players who were given a second chance and eventually made it a good move for their respective teams.

Out of desperate times can come hope and that’s where the Pelicans and Cunningham now are together.

Timberwolves Still Finding It Tough To Close The Close Ones


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks to the media after the Timberwolves’ loss to the Suns

Burdened by a failure rate in close games that soon might wrap itself constrictor-style around the team’s entire season — 0-10 in games decided by four points or less, 1-18 going back a full calendar year — the Minnesota Timberwolves might want to try something daring the next time they have a comfortable late lead:

If they find themselves up six or seven points and the game clock under, say, five seconds, they use a timeout to lay a red carpet around the 3-point line. Invite the other guys to hoist one final bomb, uncontested from long range, in the hope that they’ll hit it. Ideally, there won’t be enough time for the opposition to turn that last gasp into a serious comeback and the Wolves will let some air out of what’s becoming a burdensome dark cloud over their season.

It’s bad enough that Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the rest of coach Rick Adelman‘s squad have been spinning their wheels like a Camaro in a Minnesota snownami – they’re 0-8 in their attempts to push over .500 since slipping below on Nov. 27. Now these repeated failures at winning the sort of tight games wannabe playoff teams need come April is threatening to fray more than just some postseason ambitions.

After Kevin Martin‘s veering layup dropped off the front rim Wednesday night at Target Center in the 104-103 loss to Phoenix, a cranky Love called out some teammates for their demeanor:

“We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts,” Love said, referring to the poor body language exhibited by veterans J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham in the fourth quarter. “We all need to be in this together. That kind of [ticks] me off. We’re supposed to be a team.”

The Timberwolves (17-18) are anything but a team right now. They are a collection of individual agendas tripping each other up as the franchise pursues its first playoff bid since 2004.

And:

“It’s two guys that we expect more from them,” Love said. “I think they expect more from themselves. I’m not trying to single anybody out and I don’t want to make it bigger than it is, but it’s just a team that we needed to beat tonight and we needed everybody in there, even guys that didn’t play any minutes. We need to have a team and a bench that’s really in it together.”

The tension is mounting. After the two-point home loss to Dallas on Dec. 30 – the game in which Shawn Marion‘s foul on Love’s game-tying shot wasn’t whistled until the following morning – the All-Star power forward criticized the bench for its five-point, 2-of-12, nine-turnover performance in 58 combined minutes. Five days later, it was Love bricking four free throws at the end of their 115-111 loss to the Thunder (with the bench again chipping in five points).

On Wednesday, the Wolves’ second unit won its matchup 29-27 but Love had a poor game (15 points, 4-of-20, 12 rebounds but just one assist). Minnesota got outscored 7-0 over the final 1:51 to yank that one out of its 17-8 “split” in games decided by five points or more.

So what is behind all the late-game gaggery? It’s dicey to allege that the Wolves are choking because “choke,” like its flip side “clutch,” are oft-challenged concepts these days in the sports world.

Another reason to tread lightly on what might be a mostly random occurrence is the belief that, if this were diagnosable, it would be correctable. An operation (like Minnesota or any NBA squad) deep in basketball wisdom and financial resources would find a fix before racking up this 0-10 mark.

What’s left, then, are largely theories, several of which the Wolves probably will poke and prod in search of answers. Such as:

  • Inexperience in such circumstances. Uh, 1-18 over a 12-month period seems like ample opportunity to learn something.
  • No proven go-to guy. Seriously? With Love and Martin on the floor?
  • Predictable play-calling in such situations. This is Adelman we’re talking about, folks, a Hall of Fame-bound coach with 1,019 victories and fat stack of kudos for his offensive wiles.
  • Nervous ballhandling. Minnesota did have four of its 12 turnovers vs. Phoenix in the fourth quarter, two in the final 46 seconds. Rubio threw the ball recklessly while in the air headed out of bounds with 24.9 seconds left. But as the Wolves’ primary ball handler, Rubio is not worse late in games (15.6 of his turnovers and 16.9 percent of his minutes come after the third quarter) or in close ones (51 percent of his turnovers, 50.1 percent of his minutes with margins of five points or less).
  • Lack of referee respect. Well, yeah, that one night. And the Wolves don’t have a glamour rep or, depending on what you think of Love, a marquee name like James, Durant or Anthony. But Martin merely dealt with the usual end-of-game traffic in the lane Wednesday.
  • Leadership. That’s it, the Wolves just need another traffic cop pointing and growling directions when everyone else’s heart is in his throat. Come to think of it, Love might need to seize that role more.

More likely, at this stage, they need something cool, the way Joe Montana lifted pressure off hjis 49ers teammates late in Super Bowl XXIII when they trailed Cincinnati 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game.

Longtime Minnesota sports fans might recall what the MLB Twins went through in the mid-1980s, when alleged closer Ron Davis got into an ugly run of pouring gasoline on ninth-inning leads. A collective mental block seemed to develop, certainly a bad case of group pessimism, and after blowing a 10-run lead to Cleveland in late September 1984 to crater out of a division race, third baseman Gary Gaetti famously said: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.”

That ball club was a frazzled mess by the end, unable to exhale. This Wolves team is headed that way, with six of its next nine on the road and 29 rivals convinced that, when facing Minnesota, merely staying close is the surest path to victory.


VIDEO: The Suns rally to overtake the Timberwolves in Minnesota

Howling Wolves Deal With Quiet Time


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Timberwolves 112-101 on Saturday

Remember when the Timberwolves were something to howl about?

It was less than two weeks ago when the ball and the shots were moving through the offense like they were notes in a symphony.

You could pull on your parka and a pair of mukluks, then squint your eyes and imagine you were watching the Spurs North.

You could see Ricky Rubio spinning, darting and creating with only the edges of his imagination as a limit, see Kevin Love go down low to score in the post and then come outside and make it rain from behind the 3-point line, see Kevin Martin drop in all those improbable shots from all those impossible difficult angles.

The Timberwolves were 6-3 right out of the box and they were a team that could dance right off into the stars.

But now they have two left feet. All of a sudden, they can’t shoot, can’t defend, can’t muster up enough energy to take the floor and make their coach happy.

“You can look at stats all you want, but we didn’t have enough,” said Rick Adelman after their fourth loss in six games, a flogging by the James Harden-less Rockets. “I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job and the schedule doesn’t matter.”

The schedule has turned brutal of late, serving up nine games in 14 nights, five in seven, including rising teams such as the Clippers and Rockets and next up are the East-leading Pacers.

“We play 18 games right off the bat this month,” Love said. “It’s tough. I think that’s really what it is. Plus we’re playing some really good teams. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”

One of the things that makes it hard has been the continuing struggles of Rubio to put the ball into the basket. For all of the wizardry that he uses to set up his teammates for easy baskets, the 23-year-old doesn’t seem to have a trick up his sleeve to help himself.

Rubio has made half his shots from the field only five times in the first 15 games, shooting just 34.7 percent. Now in his third NBA season, Rubio has scored 15 or more points in a game while making half his shots only nine times. The Wolves are 6-3 in those games. It’s just not that simplistic, but if Rubio could learn to shoot, the Wolves could take a big permanent step forward.

“It’s a lot easier when all your guys can make shots,” Adelman said. “He’s such a good passer and creator that if he’s making shots it makes it very difficult for the other team. They can’t go under screens, pick and rolls and things like that. It’s a process he’s going to have to go through.

“This is the first year he’s had training camp since he’s been in the league. He’s been hurt or we had a short training camp. It’s going to take time. He’s playing well and hopefully he’s to going to make shots.”

They’re a team that has Love and Rubio back in the lineup after being plagued by injuries a year ago and they have small forward Corey Brewer back with the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. They have big man Nikola Pekovic doing all that he can in the middle and with Chase Budinger again sidelined by injury, they’ve sucked everything they can out of Martin as if he were a water hose in the desert.

“We were the worst outside shooting team in the league last year,” Adelman said. “So having Kevin opens things up. And having the other Kevin (Love) back opens things up too. Last year we were firing blanks. We didn’t really have a lot of answers. This year we have a few more.”

They are still a team that has less depth than a wading pool and could use former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to be something more than a massive bust or Alexey Shved or Dante Cunningham or Robbie Hummel or anyone to step up.

“We’re a solid team,” Martin said. “We got some work to do. It’s a long season. Everybody goes through their tough stretches with a tough schedule…We feel like we’re right in there. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Just got to weather the storm right now.”

Rubio Staying Positive On Rough Road Back

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DALLAS – For a kid who knows only how to play the game with pure joy, this is pure hell.

The two ugly scars that mar his left knee each measure five inches long, one starting in the middle of his knee cap and jagging down. The other curves around the left side of the knee like a misshapen crescent moon.

As Ricky Rubio pulled up the black, padded knee sleeve that made the permanent markings of reconstructive surgery disappear, he wished the trials that still come with his ongoing recovery, one that wiped out the Olympics and all but 10 games now of this season, could just disappear, too. He softly shook his floppy mane of dark hair and flashed a small, if only brief, smile.

“It’s hard because I still have a little pain and it’s something you have to fight through and get through,” said the 22-year-old Spaniard before the Minnesota Timberwolves lost 113-98 to the Dallas Mavericks, a fourth consecutive defeat for Minnesota and yet another game that Rubio would come off the bench and be limited by a minutes restriction.

“I talk with the guys who had the same injury and they say about a year, a year-and-a-half [after surgery] they started feeling, like, normal,” Rubio continued. “It’s tough when you’re playing with something in your mind; you don’t want to think about it, but it’s in your mind that you’re going slower and you are not who you used to be.

“That’s going to come, but you have to be patient.”

Rubio made his season debut on Dec. 15 against Dallas and played 18 minutes. He dazzled the home crowd with eight points and nine assists, including the highlight of the night, a no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass into the lane to Greg Stiemsma for a layup. It’s about as good as it’s gotten.

Back spasms, likely caused by overcompensation for his knee, took him out of the lineup after just five games. He returned on Jan. 8 and in the four games prior to Monday, Rubio, averaging 3.8 points and 4.6 assists, had made one of 12 shots. His assists dwindled from eight to seven to three to two, all while playing no more than 22 minutes.

“You see flashes, but you can see he is nowhere near like he was last season. He was moving,” teammate J.J. Barea said. “The way he plays he needs to move like he used to move, where he’s faster and he’ll be able to get to pick his spots, get wherever he wants so he can make those passes.”

Flashes came and went Monday night against the Mavs. By the time acting coach Terry Porter subbed Rubio in with 3:20 to go in the first quarter, listless Minnesota trailed 22-11. Rubio and benchmate Barea got the Wolves clicking. Rubio directed an alley-oop pass to Dante Cunningham, drained a jumper and kept a possession alive with a swooping rebound in the lane as the Wolves closed to 39-36 and then 45-41.

But Rubio also couldn’t finish a drive after getting around O.J. Mayo, with little lift leaving his attempt short of the rim. In the final moments of Rubio’s nearly 13 minutes in the first half, Dallas went up 48-41, and then, with Rubio on the bench, 55-45 at the half.

He never got a fair shot to make a dent in the second half. Porter — serving for Rick Adelman while he tends to his wife in the hospital — kept Rubio tethered to the bench for the first 10 1/2 minutes of the third quarter as the Wolves’ first unit mirrored its awful first quarter and allowed the game to slip away. Rubio checked in with Minnesota, reeling from injuries and a rotation in tatters, trailing 87-68.

He finished with six points, six assists and five rebounds, and was a plus-7 — the highest rating among the eight Wolves that played at least 21 minutes.

Rubio’s 2-for-3 shooting night tied his season high for made buckets and figured as his best shooting percentage among the 10 games he’s played, an indication of how brutal it’s been after he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists in a tantalizing rookie campaign before a torn ACL ended it after 41 games.

“It’s hard because you work hard for eight or nine months to get back and it doesn’t stop here,” Rubio said. “You have to work even harder now to get back in shape, to get back to the point you want to be feeling the game again, and that doesn’t come easy.”

Yet, add logging a season-high 27 minutes Monday and a desperate Wolves team slipping down the standings at 16-18, can at least glean some positives as they head back to frigid Minneapolis.

“I tell him to be patient, to keep working on his legs, keep working on his body. It’s going to turn around sooner or later, but he’s got to be patient and stay positive,” Barea said. “And I tell him he’s young. He’s 22, he has nothing to worry about.”

Maybe so. But right now, it’s hell.

Adelman Steers Injury-Plagued Wolves

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HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — If Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman can somehow steer his dejected club through these latest injury setbacks to his two injury-marred stars, please reward him with long overdue recognition as coach of the year.

Before Saturday night’s game against Portland, and after learning that star forward Kevin Love would again be sidelined by a re-break to that darned right hand he originally fractured before the season by doing knuckle push-ups, Adelman marveled how, through one injury after another, his team had managed to pull off a 15-14 record.

With Love joining point guard Ricky Rubio, saddled with his second injury after a brief return from a torn ACL, on the bench once again, the Wolves dropped to 15-15 after a furious late comeback failed against the surging Trail Blazers.

A once-promising season, so filled with hope and excitement and adventure, is becoming one to forget, robbed by uncontrollable injury that now threatens to nosedive off the cliff as the Wolves sit in ninth place.

Rubio, the flashy, dynamic point guard destined for stardom, managed to play in just five games starting Dec. 15, but was unable to join the starting lineup before back spasms, perhaps caused by overcompensation for his knee, took him out after a Dec. 26 loss to Houston.

Rubio and Love, who had never really rounded into All-Star form, saddled with wilting shooting percentages, have played in just three games together.

“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Adelman told reporters before Saturday’s 102-97 loss, Minnesota’s sixth in the last nine games. “You start out with Ricky from the very beginning, hoping to get him back and then it’s just been one thing after the other.”

Dante Cunningham, Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved are the only Wolves to have played in all 30 games. The injury list is mesmerizing. Obviously Rubio didn’t play for the first month-and-a-half and Love missed the first three weeks. Brandon Roy lasted just five games before more knee problems have forced him to consider re-retirement. Chase Budinger made it into a sixth game before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Malcolm Lee played in 16 games before a knee injury took him out.

Josh Howard, brought in as an emergency replacement, was waived after he suffered an ACL injury.

J.J. Barea has missed five games, Andrei Kirilenko has missed four and Nikola Pekovic must feel fortunate to have only missed two when he sprained an ankle in November.

If the Wolves have any luck at all they’ll soon get Rubio back. They’ll need him. The remaining January schedule is a bear and could ultimately determine whether the Wolves will be a playoff contender and how active they might be come the trade deadeline.

Among 12 games left this month, Minnesota faces Atlanta twice, the Los Angeles Clippers twice, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and Brooklyn. The Wolves play seven of the 12 on the road, where they’re just 6-10. Games at Washington and Charlotte at the end of the month will serve as must-wins.

In the hotly contested West, if the Wolves somehow head into February with a top-eight spot or anywhere close, be ready finally to give Adelman that long overdue coach of the year award. No questions asked.

Dalembert, Others Await Teams’ Call

HANG TIME TEXAS, Y’ALL – Though time is growing late as the Christmas Day tipoff draws near, our friend Chris Sheridan at Sheridan Hoops says there are still several free agents available that should have been signed by now, with Kings shotblocker supreme Samuel Dalembert heading the list.

Lest we all forget, Dalembert was somewhat linked to landing in Miami with the Heat early in the free-agency game. That has since changed as he recently told Fox Sports Florida’s Chris Tomasson that taking the Heat’s $5 million exception “would be tough.” Houston has emerged as a suitor of late, but where Dalembert and several other talented-but-still unemployed free agents end up is a mystery:

Samuel Dalembert should have been signed by now. A shot-blocking and rebounding specialist, the 7-footer would figure to be in his demand simply because capable 7-footers are always seemingly in high demand.

Dalembert had been in negotiations with the Houston Rockets, who have been trying to dig out of the rubble caused when commissioner David Stern dynamited their trade with the Hornets and Lakers, ruining their plans to field a front line of Pau Gasol and Nene.

But now that the news is out that the Kings have voided the contract of free agent signee Chuck Hayes because of a heart abnormality, it makes all that much more sense for Dalembert to re-sign with the Kings, whose owners vowed to keep him at the conclusion of last season.

Yet Dalembert remains idle, as is Kris Humphries, who averaged a double-double for New Jersey last season before marrying and then breaking up with Kim Kardashian.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies made an offer to Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham when they got news that Darrell Arthur would be lost for the season due to a torn Achilles’ tendon.

In the wake of the Kings voiding the four-year, $21-million contract to Chuck Hayes after a physical found a heart irregularlity, don’t think for a minute that his former team in Houston won’t be interested. One thing the Rockets never doubted was Hayes’ heart.

Is there yet an NBA team that can make the right offer to get Andrei Kirilenko to return from his native Russia?

And what about Gilbert Arenas? Isn’t there somebody still willing to roll the dice?

Wallace Still Sore About Trade

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We suspect the standing ovation Gerald Wallace will receive at Time Warner Arena tonight in Charlotte will be as long and thunderous as any heard in Bobcats’ history.

After all, it’s not every day that the very first face of the franchise walks through the door with an opposing team. Yet that’s exactly what Wallace and his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, will do this evening.

And it’s far from the happy homecoming you might have imagined. Wallace is more than happy to be toiling on a Blazers team steaming toward the playoffs with a renewed energy, due in large part to their last-minute acquisition of Wallace at the Feb. 24 trade deadline. And few players have exhibited the sort of no-nonsense approach to their work that Wallace does on a daily basis.

His description of the way he was shipped out of Charlotte, though, doesn’t sound like the sort of treatment the only All-Star in Bobcats history deserved. Wallace used phrases like “stab in the back” and “slap in the face” to capture his feelings about the trade, a move he insists Bobcats coach Paul Silas told him would not happen just hours before it did.

“Basically, he told me before the practice that I was good, that no trades were going to go down and I was OK and I didn’t have anything to worry about,” Wallace told reporters in Charlotte Thursday, his first day back in town since the trade. “Then I get home and bam, I’m traded.”

In this era of players dictating the terms of their own careers, the one that has some people crowing about a ruinous takeover of the league by star players demanding to play with their All-Star friends, Wallace is a victim of the age-old flip side practice of teams making moves in their own financial best interest with little regard to what that means to the player or players involved.

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Life for Mavs & Blazers

Life is a little better today for the Mavericks, not so much for the Blazers. Let’s start with Portland, which announced today that “center Marcus Camby underwent successful arthroscopic surgery to repair a partial medial meniscus tear in his left knee this morning.”

The procedure was performed in Vancouver, Wash., and leaves the Blazers without the league’s fifth-leading rebounder (11.3) for approximately three weeks. Throw that on top of Greg Oden being out for the year — again — and Joel Przybilla contemplating retirement, and the Blazers might as well put up a Help Wanted sign in the unpainted paint in the Rose Garden lane.

General manager Rich Cho tried to put a happy face on the Portland’s latest surgery.

“We’re pleased with the outcome of today’s surgery, and look forward to seeing Marcus back on the court soon,” he said. “In the meantime, we have confidence in our frontcourt players to step into the void left by Marcus and help us continue to win games.”

In 39 games (all starts) this season, Camby averaged 5.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.87 blocks in 28.7 minutes. He’s the only player in the Western Conference averaging at least 11.0 rebounds and 1.50 blocks.

The Blazers went with a three-forward look of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Dante Cunningham in the starting lineup in Wednesday’s win over Sacramento, with Przybilla being the first off the bench. Wonder if they’ll do the same in tonight’s TNT nightcap (10:30 p.m. ET) against the BlakeShow, aka the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the TNT opener, Dallas takes its much-needed one-game winning streak to run with the Bulls at 8 p.m. Chicago beat the Mavs on the road earlier this season, but Jason Terry and Co. are coming off Wednesday’s huge win over the Lakers.

“I’ve been here seven years and had never been through a stretch where we lost six games in a row,” Terry said. “I think the big thing was realizing and assessing the situation and then aggressively attacking from the beginning.”