Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
Filling in for an injured All Star is just another day at the office for Dante Cunningham
There was probably at least one guy not terribly shaken by Love's hand injury: Dante Cunningham. After all, he's been through it before. Like,every year he's been in the NBA.
Cunningham was drafted in the second round in 2009 (33rd overall) and has done nothing but prove he belongs since. His rookie season in Portland, he was called on to help fill in the gaps in the frontcourt rotation, as the Blazers' center rotation of Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla played just 51 games. Combined.
His second season, he found his minutes nearly doubled, as the Blazers were without Oden all season and Pryzbilla again played a limited 31 games the whole year, and Marcus Camby missed 30 games as well. Then Cunningham was dealt to Charlotte, where he helped fill the void left by Tyrus Thomas' injury (he missed 41 games). Then last season, Cunningham again found himself doing yeoman's work, as he was dealt to Memphis, who promptly lost Zach Randolph four games into the season.
So this is really just deja vu Cunningham, who's proven himself more than capable of stepping up when his team needs him to. His career averages of 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds come out to a respectable 11 and 7 per36 minutes. And he will be needed if this team hopes to remain afloat in the playoff picture long enough for Love and Ricky Rubio to make it back.
A lot of fans think this is a great opportunity for Derrick Williams to assert himself and prove his merit, as there will now be plenty of minutes available at his more natural position of power forward. But Adelman wasn't so quick to jump on that train. When asked if this meant Williams would become the starter at the 4, Adelman replied:
"Why would people assume that? He's certainly one of the guys that has to play there, but it's going to be him, Dante, Lou, Andrei may play some there. That's what we're going to have to find out the next three games and practices, what's the best way to go."
Historically speaking, Cunningham and Kirilenko are more the types of forwards Adelman likes having at the 4. He either prefers extremely high skill levels, tenacious work in the paint and on defense, or both. Chris Webber was his signature guy: a power forward with the post game of a center, the athleticism of a top flight shooting guard, and the passing ability of a point guard (one of the best, if not the best, passing big men of all time). When Webber went down, Adelman turned to blue-collar guys like Keon Clark. In Houston, he had a bit of both worlds in Luis Scola, and again...when Yao went down....he went with the blue-collar guy, Chuck Hayes.
There's probably something to be said too about how the team chose to pursue blue-collar Lou Amundson, rather than re-sign three-point shooter Anthony Tolliver.
In any case, it's really just another day at the office for Cunningham, who's comments made it clear he has been there, done that. "Right now we're dealing with a team coming together. For him to go down right now is definitely a blow to our team. But we're going to pick it up and move forward."
Cunningham's already become a favorite of mine on the team. So yeah....I'm good with that.