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.