When the Oklahoma City Thunder inked Mike Muscala early during the 2019 free agency period, expectations were low after the veteran big’s disappointing stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. For the most part, those expectations were correct–at least in year one. Muscala had a disappointing first season with the Thunder, appearing in 47 games and averaging a meager 4.8 points per game. When the Thunder and Muscala initially agreed to a deal, they were hoping to pair him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George to add much-needed spacing. We know how that worked out. Once that situation settled, Oklahoma City granted Musky the opportunity to explore other options instead of remaining committed to OKC; he declined and ultimately signed with OKC.
This is how we got here today: a week from the trade deadline with Muscala in the midst of a career-year where he is averaging career highs in points per game (9.7) and in 2-point field goal percentage (an impressive 60.5%). The Thunder are faced with the difficult decision of holding onto Musky or selling now while his value is at its highest. The decision to retain or relinquish Musky should be an easy one. However, like many things in sports, it gets a little complicated. The Thunder are “repositioning” as Presti calls it and OKC is still in the asset acquisition phase of their rebuild.
If another team calls or Oklahoma City makes a call of their own and are offered any draft compensation for Muscala it would be tough to say no. But here are three seasons why they should.
1. Shooter tutor
Sam Presti and the rest of the Thunder front office possess a history of drafting not-great shooters. This must change in order for OKC to accelerate their reposition and begin competing with contenders again. This is where Muscala, a career 36 percent shooter from distance, comes in. He has shot below 34 percent for the entire season only twice in his seven-year career (his first and third years in the association). Given the Thunder do not currently have and are unlikely to hire a shooting coach, the young group of current and future thunder guards, wings, and even big men could learn from Muscala’s marksmanship.
2. Vet presence
The Thunder boasts one of the best team cultures in the league. Current and former players, coaches, and other executives praise the organic and rich culture OKC’s built during their time in Oklahoma. There is no singular factor that has established that dynamic, but strong veterans within the locker room certainly helped. Joining Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Caron Butler, and a few others, at only 29 years of age Muscala is already in Oklahoma City’s storied grandfathers club due to his leadership and likeability among the players.
3. Chemistry and continuity
Continuity is something Thunder Nation was unconcerned about for a long time. Heck, their original dynamic duo spearheaded the squad for nearly a decade. Now, less than 24 months removed from the Westbrook/George trades, the only remaining player (Hamidou Diallo) remaining from the Brodie era is gone. That is a lot of roster turnover in a short time, and you can expect more before the Thunder are back in contending status. Muscala has never made more than $5 million in a season would be perfect to keep around for a semblance budget-friendly continuity.
Nobody knows what the fate of the Thunder roster will be at this trade deadline or beyond. Keeping Muscala on the roster makes sense financially, in the locker room, and on the floor–now and in the future. The bottom line is that Musky checks many boxes; he is an inexpensive option, he is a shooter, has the ability to help young players develop, fits the culture, and at 29 years old is in the perfect position where he is old enough to be a vet, yet young enough to still help nail a couple of treys in pivotal playoff games in a few years time.
Don’t trade Mike.