There is an opportunity for Jared Cunningham in Atlanta.
The guard recently arrived in his new city to continue workouts with an eye toward putting a disappointing rookie season behind him and earning a roster spot with the Hawks. Cunningham, acquired by the Hawks in a draft-day trade with the Mavericks in June, was hobbled last season by thumb, hamstring and knee injuries. The former first-round pick was limited to eight NBA games and had two stints in the NBA Development League.
Now healthy, Cunningham hopes for a fresh start.
“I wasn’t really shocked,” Cunningham said of the trade to the Hawks. “I was just excited with the opportunity to be with another team and have the opportunity to get out there and play.”
Cunningham, 22, missed the Las Vegas Summer League with the Mavericks as a rookie because of injury. He suffered from tendinitis in his right knee that affected him much of the season. He tried to play through the injury in the D-League, but eventually was shut down for the season. He said he is “pretty much” 100 percent after time to heal and rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles around his knee.
Cunningham played only 26 minutes, over eight games, with the Mavericks. He averaged 2.0 points in 3.3 minutes. Playing for the Texas Legends, Cunningham appeared in 15 games (13 starts) and averaged 15.3 points, 3.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 34.5 minutes.
“I was injured a lot,” Cunningham said. “It was hard to get back healthy and compete at that high of a level. When I went down to the D-League I tried to play through (the knee injury). Unfortunately, it didn’t help me. I had to sit out, basically, from January on. It was a long time. It was great experience playing in Dallas and being around some great players. I just take everything I learned there and bring it here and keep going.”
The 6-foot-4 Cunningham said he has worked this offseason, in Los Angeles and Oakland, to become a combination guard. He said he has worked extensively on his spot-up jump shot and ball-handling skills. He will come to training camp Oct. 1 as one of 14 players under contract. The Hawks will bring in several non-roster players to compete for positions.
Cunningham has a guaranteed contract for $1.2 million this season. The Hawks have two option years before needing to make a qualifying offer. He played four games for the Hawks in the summer league and averaged 6.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 25.5 minutes.
“Jared is a talented, young player that has the potential to play both guard spots in the NBA,” Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said. “With the season right around the corner, (coach Mike Budenholzer) and his staff look forward to watching him compete in training camp and then helping Jared further develop his game.”
Cunningham, who earned the nickname J-Flight in college, believes he is back to being the explosive player that was named All-Pac-12 first team at Oregon State his final season in 2012.
“Just flying around, going above the rim, dunking the ball, being real athletic, being everywhere,” Cunningham said of acquiring his nickname.
Playing at Oregon State for three seasons had its perks. Cunningham played under coach Craig Robinson — better known as President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. The team made three trips to the White House and its outdoor basketball court for some fun with the leader of the free world.
College is over, and Cunningham said he realizes basketball is now his business. It was a lesson he had difficulty learning during his initial professional season. Cunningham said he has relied on veterans such as Elton Brand, who played with the Mavericks last season and joined the Hawks as a free agent in the offseason. Cunningham said he received phone calls from Brand for encouragement and to make sure he was working to reach his potential.
“It’s a business,” Cunningham said. “Everybody wants to play. You have to do the little things — defense, dive on the court, whatever it takes — to earn minutes. … You have to come out every day and work, work to be the best at it so you don’t get fired.”