Just as the Hawks welcomed a new center into the fold, they lost another for the season.
Mike Muscala practiced with the Hawks on Friday, a day after signing with the team following the buyout of his Spanish League contract. While Muscala was on the court, the Hawks announced that Gustavo Ayon had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.
Ayon is the third Hawks player, and second center, to have a surgical procedure cut short his season, as he joins Al Horford and John Jenkins.
“We put our heads together with Gustavo and thought that him getting the surgery, and basically that he most likely would be done for the year, is something we understood and knew a few days ago,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You keep working. You keep my own spirits up, the group’s spirits up. People will get opportunities to go out and compete.”
The Hawks claimed Ayon, and his remaining one-year, $1.5 million contract, off waivers from the Bucks this summer. His tenure in Atlanta likely is over.
“We are hopeful that he will make a full recovery this summer for himself,” Budenholzer said.
Ayon, the MVP in Mexico’s FIBA Americas championship this summer, missed the past five games with the injury suffered Feb. 18 against the Pacers. He also missed the first eight games of the season with another right shoulder injury suffered during the exhibition opener. The injury was described as inflammation and a rotator-cuff strain following an MRI exam.
Ayon appeared in 26 games this season, including 14 starts, and averaged 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.5 minutes. He became the starting center after injuries to Horford and Pero Antic.
Ayon has been plagued by injuries throughout his two-plus seasons in the NBA. He has played 135 games with the Hornets, Magic, Bucks and Hawks.
The Hawks may be close to getting Antic back from the stress fracture in his right ankle that has cost him the past 16 games. Antic was a limited practice participant Friday, and the Hawks updated his status to day-to-day.
The 6-foot-11 Muscala got a playbook and some video to study Thursday after signing. He immediately began preparing to start his NBA career.
“Putting more pressure on the rim offensively and defensively, getting rebounds offensively and defensively, playing with the skill I have in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situation,” Muscala said of his instructions.
The Hawks signed Dexter Pittman to a 10-day contract Saturday, but waived him Thursday to clear a roster spot for Muscala. Pittman appeared in two games and had three rebounds in three minutes. Muscala could see more action as the backup to Elton Brand.
“I would say Mike is ahead (of Pittman),” Budenholzer said. “Mike played summer league with us and participated in a lot of open gym in September. …
“Mike is somebody that we feel strongly about and hope is a part of our future long term. I think it’s an opportunity to hopefully get him into the mix and include him and really try to grow him as a player as part of our group.”
Under Budenholzer, the Hawks look to spread the floor and will even ask their centers to step out to the 3-point line. Antic was comfortable behind the arc. Muscala is working on that aspect of his game.
“I’m comfortable in the corners right now, for sure,” he said. “The 3’s up top and the wing are long for me, but I’m definitely really comfortable in the corners. My mid-range shot is really good, too. That is something I’m looking to bring to the table.”
Millsap update: Paul Millsap will not play Sunday against the Suns when the Hawks begin a five-game western trip. The starting power forward has missed the past three games with a bruised right knee. His knee swelled on the flight back to Atlanta following the injury suffered in Detroit. An MRI exam was negative.
Millsap lifted weights during Friday’s practice and did some light shooting.
“Hopefully we’ll have him back soon,” Budenholzer said.
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