ADVERTISEMENT

Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham (left)

Hannah Foslien, Associated Press file

Jerry Zgoda's NBA Insider: Cunningham and the smell of commitment

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • January 13, 2013 - 8:37 AM

Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham wasn't quite sure at first what New Orleans coach Monty Williams meant by it, but given their relationship he was pretty certain it's a good thing.

Somebody not all that long ago asked Williams about the season he spent mentoring a raw rookie named Cunningham in Portland, and the first words out of his mouth were ...

"Dante was pretty much my deodorant," he said.

An armpit metaphor might not seem like a good thing. Williams assures that it is.

He was a Trail Blazers assistant coach who had played nine NBA seasons with five different teams when Portland chose Cunningham in the 2009 draft's second round.

The two went to the same high school in the Washington, D.C., area -- St. John's Potomac -- and they used that common ground as the bedrock of their relationship, even though they attended the school some 15 years apart.

"He went to my high school, so I had a different attachment to him," Williams said.

When Williams gestured, Cunningham watched.

When Williams talked, Cunningham listened.

"He taught me the NBA life," Cunningham said. "When you're a rookie you don't know, what to do and what not to do. I definitely learned from him all about showing up early for games, filling a role, doing what you have to do to survive.

"Deodorant? I don't know what he's talking about. Hopefully something that's not going to make him stink. All I know is I learned a lot from him."

It has taken Cunningham four NBA seasons, two trades and one free-agent signing to find his way in the league from lost rookie to starting power forward who stepped onto the court across from his mentor Friday night in New Orleans.

Of course, he's there with the Timberwolves in good part because Kevin Love is out for the next two months and more because of that refractured hand. But he's also there because of his own determination, drive and the lessons Williams in part taught him.

"He was one of the few guys I've been around who came to work every day, worked his tail off and listened to everything you said," said Williams, who was hired as the Hornets head coach in June 2010. "I tried to teach him everything I knew, and he listened to everything I told him and worked his butt off. I'm not surprised he's having the success he's having. He's a great kid. He works hard. He's starting to understand the game and his role in the league.

"He's one of those guys who every team needs because he knows exactly what he's supposed to do every night."

Cunningham listened to what Williams had to teach partly because of their shared history at St. John's Potomac.

"I didn't know him," Cunningham said, "but you always hear about the older guys who made it. The teachers who were still there that knew him always talked about him. You hear that and you hope you leave some kind of legacy there, too."

Williams graduated high school in 1989, went to Notre Dame and became a late first-round pick by New York in 1994. Cunningham graduated in 2005, attended Villanova and was the 33rd player selected in 2009.

That's when the two St. John's Potomac alums aligned.

"He took me under his wing," Cunningham said. "I guess that's where the deodorant thing must come from."

ZGODA'S HOOP NOTES

Who says there's little or no inflation?

Mankato businessman Glen Taylor bought the Timberwolves in 1994 for about $88 million. Last summer, the Golden State franchise sold for $450 million and now the Sacramento Kings could be sold for more than $500 million to a Seattle group that would move the team into Key Arena -- where the SuperSonics once played -- next season for two years until a new downtown Seattle arena built.

Taylor, by the way, has prepared his team for sale if the right ownership group and the right deal come along. But, given the apparent market, for how much? And to whom?

Encore! Encore!

The Timberwolves didn't appear on a TNT Thursday night game for nearly seven years and now will do so twice in a month when they follow December's home game against Oklahoma City with Thursday's home game against the suddenly mighty Clippers.

Former Wolves broadcaster Kevin Harlan and Mike Fratello will call that 7 p.m. game for TNT in the opening act for the Heat-Lakers nightcap from Los Angeles.

Kevin & Kevin, together again

The Celtics and Rockets on Friday met for the final time this season and for the first time since that emotional postgame scene in Houston last month when the two Kevins -- McHale and Garnett -- met in a tearful embrace not long after McHale's daughter Sasha died at age 23.

This time, McHale returned to Boston telling stories about KG's earliest times with the Timberwolves.

Included was one about Garnett's first NBA practice in Minnesota in 1995, when he sprawled out on the ground afterward and, according to McHale, asked this question:

"This is going to be a job, isn't it?"

THE WOLVES THIS WEEK

Sunday: 6 p.m. at San Antonio (FSN)

Monday: 7:30 p.m. at Dallas (FSN)

Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. L.A. Clippers (TNT)

Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Houston (no TV)

Player to watch

Tim Duncan, Spurs

He has turned back the clock and is playing like Timmy Duncan, with 17 double-doubles already this season (and 749 for his career) and averages of 17.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.

VOICES

« Too much, I don't think I can do it again. »

Ricky Rubio when asked last week how much it hurts to watch the end of games because he has reached his limit on minutes.

 

© 2014 Star Tribune