Why the Thunder is bringing back sharp-shooting center Mike Muscala

Why the Thunder is bringing back sharp-shooting center Mike Muscala

Mike Muscala reportedly is returning to OKC. The former Thunder big man will sign with the team after the Detroit Pistons waived him.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Mar 1, 2024, 11:46am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Mar 1, 2024, 11:46am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — Not so long ago, Mike Muscala was a high-priority piece for the Thunder. 

Back in the summer of 2019 — when Russell Westbrook and Paul George were on the roster and seemed like they might remain — Muscala was the first player OKC president and general manager Sam Presti went to see at the opening of free agency. 

A lot’s changed. 

But the fond feelings between Muscala and the Thunder remain, which is partly why he reportedly is returning to the franchise he committed to in 2019, stuck with when Westbrook and George were traded and left via trade last season. 

Muscala will sign with OKC once he clears waivers after he was released by Detroit, according to an ESPN report Friday.

Are there minutes for Muscala in Oklahoma City? It’s hard to say. 

The Thunder prefers centers who can face the basket and shoot 3-pointers, and that’s Muscala’s specialty. 

In four seasons with Oklahoma City, Muscala played 168 games, averaging seven points and three rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. He shot 39.2% from 3-point range on 3.8 attempts per game. For his career, Muscala is averaging six points and 3.2 rebounds, shooting 37.6% from long range. 

Whether that’s enough for him to find minutes in the rotation on a contending team remains to be seen. OKC has tended to play small when starting center Chet Holmgren is off the court, and second-year forward Jaylin Williams gives it a bigger option. 

But Muscala is a known commodity, a stylistic fit and a popular player in the Thunder locker room. That makes him a strong candidate for OKC’s final open roster spot, vacated with the release of Aleksej Pokusevski last week. 

Even if Muscala is unlikely to play significant minutes, he gives the Thunder another frontcourt option with size who can stretch defenses to the 3-point line and understands the screening, passing and cutting intricacies of OKC’s offense. 

That should make Mark Daigneault comfortable putting Muscala in games. 

And there’s something fitting about the possibility of Muscala seeing playoff minutes in Oklahoma City, given the time he logged here in this Thunder team’s formative years. 

After the George and Westbrook trades in 2019, Presti offered Muscala the option of backing out of his commitment and shopping around. But Presti also left a contract offer on the table despite the tumult. 

That was meaningful to Muscala, who signed on to play with a team built around Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder — a close friend of Muscala’s since their days to together in Atlanta — knowing OKC was likely someday to pivot to a rebuild. 

OKC traded Muscala last season to Boston, which dealt him in the offseason to Washington. In January, he was part of a trade that sent him from the Wizards to Detroit. The Pistons waived him this week, paving the way for a return. 

The last time Muscala made his way to OKC, it was as a man seeking stability. After playing his first five seasons in Atlanta, he played for the Sixers and Lakers in 2018-19. 

He stuck with the Thunder in the wake of the George and Westbrook trades, he said at the time, because “my feelings just were so good about the organization, it stuck with me.” 

It’s clear that amid everything else that’s changed, those good vibes linger.

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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