Cunningham back with team, but time with Wolves could be nearing end

After missing Friday's game, Dante Cunningham started Saturday in Orlando and scored 12 points while playing nearly 35 minutes.

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In one alleged fit of rage, Dante Cunningham’s future with the Timberwolves has become tensely tenuous.

The reserve power forward was back with the team Saturday, two days after his arrest for domestic assault. He actually started in place of Kevin Love, who was a late scratch due to back spasms, and scored 12 points in 34:55 of action.

But Saturday’s loss at Orlando and the Timberwolves’ final six outings could be Cunningham’s last in Minnesota.

The 6-foot-8, 221-pound fifth-year veteran has a court appearance set for Monday at 1:30 p.m. According to a criminal complaint obtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a woman who identifies herself as Cunningham’s girlfriend and says they’ve been living together for the past eight months called police after he attempted to strangle her.

If found guilty of felony domestic assault by strangulation, Cunningham faces up to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

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The woman said she and Cunningham have been having relationship problems, and an argument early Thursday morning caused him to leave their Medina residence. She claims to have locked the door behind him, but Cunningham returned shortly after, kicked the door in, grabbed her by the neck and slammed her into the wall. The woman alleges she was strangled for 15-20 seconds before Cunningham dropped her and left the residence once again.

She then called 911, and Cunningham returned while Medina police were present and was taken into custody shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday.

He was formally charged Friday and posted bail at $40,000 then flew Saturday to Florida to rejoin his teammates. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement allows players in potential trouble with the law to compete until the legal process is completed. The league also won’t hand down any punishment until that time.

But the Timberwolves have more than Cunningham’s legal matters to consider.

By the end of the season, he’ll have made $2.18 million after the team picked up its option on his contract. Once the year is up, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.

While he’s been a steady presence off the bench, particularly defensively, in his time with the Timberwolves, Cunningham hasn’t done himself any favors the past few days if he wishes to remain in Minnesota.

He also attracted negative attention earlier this season when Kevin Love called him and J.J. Barea out for moping at the end of the bench. Playing more of a backup role with Love healthy this season, Cunningham’s minutes (25 to 20 per game), points (8.7 to 6.1 per game) and rebounds (5.1 to 4.1) are all down — a trend he’s expressed frustration with on several occasions this campaign.

Cunningham’s had another brush with the law, too; the former Villanova star was arrested in Pennsylvania in 2011 when police reportedly found marijuana, a pipe and a BB gun inside his car. The charges were later dismissed, though, and Cunningham had to pay a $225 fine.

Letting Cunningham walk would clear a little bit of cap space for a franchise that’s already pretty close to the luxury tax heading into next season. The legal process could take months, too, so Minnesota’s front office must consider the risks of signing a player who could end up doing prison time.

Injury-ravaged, again: The Timberwolves entered Saturday’s 100-92 loss without the services of Love, Nikola Pekovic (sore right ankle), Kevin Martin (sore right foot) and Shabazz Muhammad, who left Friday’s victory at Miami with a knee injury.

Then Chase Budinger went down with a sprained right ankle Saturday. If none of those four are able to return by Tuesday’s home matchup with San Antonio, Minnesota would be down to nine available players.

The team is in position to sign a free agent to a 10-day contract to finish out the season, having waived little-used point guard A.J. Price last Thursday.

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