DANTE CUNNINGHAM'S basketball exile is over.
The New Orleans Pelicans signed Cunningham yesterday to give them some much-needed depth at forward and said he would be available last night on the road against Golden State.
"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, who starred on the 2009 Villanova team that advanced to the Final Four, was charged last 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, but the charge was dropped in August after an investigation uncovered inconsistencies in her story.
Cunningham was a free agent after his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired at the end of the season. But even after Hennepin County (Minn.) authorities dropped the charges, many teams were reluctant to consider signing him after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal rocked the NFL.
Cunningham spent the previous two seasons with the Timberwolves, carving a niche as a valuable bench player who was reliable on both ends of the floor. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds last season and was paid $2.1 million in the final season of his contract. Cunningham said he had preliminary talks with a few teams, but didn't get any firm interest while the charge was being investigated.
Cunningham urged authorities to pursue charges against Miryah Herron for making false allegations, but Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the Associated Press in October he was reluctant to do so in part because of the message it could send to victims of domestic violence.
"To what extent all of this impacts his livelihood in the future, I hope it doesn't," Freeman said at the time. "I hope he can go forward and play basketball."
Cunningham's agent, Joel Bell, has worked to try to help his client clear his name. But it's taken some time.
Cunningham said his conversations with the Pelicans were centered on "making sure that all the facts were consistent with what I had to say and what the police report had to say and what the police had to say. At this point now we're just moving on."
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 league 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," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.