MINNEAPOLIS — A little more than a month ago, Mike Muscala was in northwest Spain getting ready for Blusens Monbus Obradoiro’s next contest in the Spanish ACB League.
Wednesday night, he was back home. After munching on a sub sandwich in the Target Center’s away dressing room, the Roseville native and recently signed Hawks center still couldn’t quite believe it.
Muscala figured he’d get this chance. He had no idea it’d be this soon.
"I’m trying not to think about it too much," Muscala said before his team’s road tilt with the Timberwolves. "There’s gonna be a lot of people here, but only a few to see me."
Try 50-100 folks for whom he scored tickets. That’s more than a few.
But the quiet, unassuming Bucknell graduate didn’t realize his boyhood dream by putting much attention on himself. Drafted 44th overall this past summer and opting to start his professional career overseas following a difficult summer-league campaign, he kept his 6-foot-11, 239-pound frame moving forward.
It’s the same mentality coach Mike Budenholzer’s observed in the reserve big man since Atlanta bought out his Spanish contract and signed him Feb. 27. Since then, he’s played in nine games and averaged 7.9 minutes, 1.9 points and 2.1 rebounds a contest.
"It sounds like a simple thing: he just plays really hard, and that’s a skill," Budenholzer said. "That’s something that every team should value and seek. He’s got a great foundation or base to start with, and he’s versatile as a big guy."
Muscala did the same thing at Bucknell, finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer. But summer-league play revealed some deficiencies in his game — particularly his lack of muscle — enough that Hawks general manager Danny Ferry wasn’t ready to ink the second-round pick.
In 20 games overseas, he averaged 26.3 minutes, 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds and shot 54.6 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Muscala spent most of September rehabbing from a lower-body injury at the team’s Atlanta training facility and became familiar with Budenholzer’s terminology and his current teammates. So when the Hawks grew severely shorthanded in the frontcourt and needed another center, Muscala was able to adjust easier.
"It helped a lot, for sure, just to be acquainted even with the facilities and coaching staff," said Muscala, who used to come to 2-3 Timberwolves games per year as a youngster. "When I came back from Spain, it felt a lot more comfortable."
According to shamsports.com, Muscala is due $161,471 guaranteed this season and at least half of $816,482 next year if the Hawks choose to keep him around. If he becomes a longer-term solution, he could make as much as $2.95 million over the next three years.
Budenholzer said that’s not out of the question.
"We hope that we get the best of both worlds; he tried to grow and play and develop over in Spain, and now he’s getting the last 20 or 30 games here," Budenholzer said. "It is because of the injuries, but it’s also because he’s somebody we think really has a future with us."
Barea back, bigs not: Backup point guard J.J. Barea was back in the Timberwolves lineup Wednesday night after missing Monday’s game at Memphis with a sprained left foot.
The nagging injury had been bothering him for a week, he said over the weekend.
Centers Nikola Pekovic (right-ankle bursitis) and Ronny Turiaf (right-knee bone bruise) both sat out again Wednesday night. Coach Rick Adelman said Pekovic, who’s missed six straight games and missed 13 earlier this year, could return by this weekend.
"I think he’s done more on the floor in the last couple of days," Adelman said. "His response has been OK, but he keeps talking about sometime this weekend, so that’s what we’re hoping for."
Reserve point man A.J. Price remains day-to-day after undergoing an emergency appendectomy.
Triple trouble: The key offensive objective of Minnesota’s offseason roster overhaul was to enhance the Timberwolves’ 3-point shooting. Such action was needed after they finished dead last in the league in distance percentage last season.
But with 13 games to go in this one, the improvements have been only marginal.
"I don’t think we’ve shot it as well as we need to," Adelman said.
Minnesota’s historically awful 30.5-percent clip last season has risen to just 34.2 percent this year, good for 26th in the NBA. Kevin Martin (38.5 percent) and Kevin Love (38.1) have done their part, but J.J. Barea (32.5 percent) and less-than-100-percent Chase Budinger (33) haven’t been quite up to snuff.
The reasons are many, Adelman said.
"I think it’s just something that we’ve had our moments where we shot it really well, and then other times, we haven’t," the coach said. "I think a lot of it probably has to do with ball movement. When Pek’s out, too, it hurts us. We don’t have, really, an inside thing going, so it’s a combination of things."