As the Pistons approach free agency they will have some interesting questions to answer, and very little wiggle room to answer those questions. If this free agency period is going to be a success their best chance likely lies in being able to find real contributors at the veteran’s minimum or close to it. Dante Cunningham is one of their best chances for exactly that, a player who figures to be available on the cheap who can contribute in ways the Pistons need.
The starting point of Cunningham’s value is that simply put, he is a fairly proven veteran contributor. For nearly his entire career he has been a rotation piece on various teams, typically playing around 20 minutes per game in a majority of games. Regardless of fit, finding a player on the cheap who is such a proven rotation player is valuable for the Pistons, but Cunningham has a great deal of value to the Pistons for his fit, both in terms of positional and play style.
Cunningham’s positional versatility is one of his biggest attractions for any team, but especially for the Pistons. Cunningham is a lanky 6’8″ and is fully capable of playing small or power forward. He is not an especially good defender at either spot, but he is solid at both. A veteran who will execute whatever scheme is in place and knows how to use his length to be a hindrance.
Any team (especially in today’s NBA) likes to have wing players with positional versatility, but the Pistons have a special need of this type of player. It is possible the Pistons get involved in some trade action, but as the roster stands now, Stanley Johnson is the only real small forward on the roster heading into next season unless they retain James Ennis, which Detroit reportedly wants to do. There is an abundance of shooting guards, which should result in plenty of three-guard lineups for the Pistons, but they are simply short on the wing. On top of that, even if the Pistons want to retain him, there is a very real chance that Anthony Tolliver will be in a new uniform next season. If Tolliver walks then the Pistons could potentially have big questions about the bench end of their rotation at both small forward and power forward, having Cunningham to be able to plug any holes would be especially valuable.
Even if the Pistons keep Tolliver, it has to be remembered that the Pistons should count on Blake Griffin missing at least 10 to 20 games next season. While Blake is gone, having another rangy wing player who can soak up minutes at the four will be useful to the Pistons.
Cunningham also plays either forward position in such a way that would be helpful to the Pistons. While he is not a great or high volume shooter, over the last three seasons he has shot 35.4% on 2.4 attempts per game from deep. Which while not exactly a threatening shooter, is still useful. He is also a smart cutter and screen setter, with a knack for opportunistic offensive rebounding. Essentially, he is the type of off-ball player who can slot into almost any lineup and fit in right away.
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Cunningham has been subsiding largely on tiny contracts over his entire career and ended last season with the Nets who are not terribly likely to have much interest in retaining him. And to be clear, there is a reason that Cunningham is going to be cheap, while he is decent at a lot of things, he is not all that good at anything on either side of the ball. He is pretty much a guy who you can put on the floor and is going to rarely be a net-negative, that is really his value, which is not all that valuable. But the Pistons could very well end up in pretty desperate need of rangy players at either forward spot, and Cunningham fits that bill.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that if the Pistons were to manage to retain either one of Anthony Tolliver or James Ennis it would make Cunningham a little less appealing, there is even the off-chance that the market allows the Pistons to retain both Tolliver and Ennis which would make Cunningham fairly unneeded. But, he is a guy the Pistons should keep an eye on as the free agency period begins.
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