How Roseville’s Muscala built an unlikely NBA career

new balance


Mike Muscala was traded on his first night as an NBA player. He has been traded five more times since then, most recently in June, which certifies him as a basketball nomad.

Asked Monday night how many teams he has played for, Muscala smiled.

“I lost count, to be honest,” he said.

Bitter? Not even slightly.

The Roseville native treats every day in the NBA as a blessing, even the hard ones. His official tally of teams is six (eight if you count trade pitstops) after being shipped from Boston to Washington in late June.

“If you get traded,” he said, “that means teams value you as an asset.”

Muscala is approaching his 11th NBA season, which deserves to be repeated slowly for emphasis. He will soon be an 11-year veteran almost exclusively as a backup post player who has averaged 15 minutes and 6.2 points per game and earned close to $25 million in salary in his career.

His longevity is a testament to his ability to adapt, make himself valuable as a role player and overcome long odds just to reach the NBA, let alone survive for a decade.

“Being a late bloomer, I guess,” he said.

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Muscala was selected third-team all-metro as a senior at Roseville in 2009. His dad made perhaps the most unconventional recruiting highlight video ever the previous summer to send to Division I coaches.

The video showed zero dunks but featured a handful of shots that Muscala missed because his dad felt it was more important to note that his son got himself open for the shot. There also were clips of Muscala sitting on the bench cheering for teammates.

Muscala ultimately picked Bucknell and put together a decorated career that included two trips to the NCAA tournament. What followed is a lesson in perseverance.

The average career length for NBA second-round picks is 3.3 seasons, according to STATS, Inc. Muscala has tripled that by overcoming doubts.

Dallas selected him in the second round (44th overall) in 2013 and then traded him on draft night to Atlanta. The Hawks didn’t think he was ready as a rookie so the team sent him to play in Spain. When injuries decimated their front court later that season, the Hawks brought Muscala to the NBA.

He played his first three seasons on non-guaranteed contracts. He kept improving as he moved from one team to the next. From Atlanta to Philadelphia, then Los Angeles (the Clippers for 24 hours before traded to the Lakers) and Oklahoma City and Boston.

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He evolved his skills after recognizing the game was changing around him. Centers must either be forces at the rim or three-point shooters in the modern game. Muscala devoted one offseason in Atlanta to extending his shooting range.

“It’s fun to view basketball from a business lens too,” he said. “What are teams going to find valuable from me as a pro player and what should I work on to make that happen? Sometimes that can skew your game in a way that might change your game.”

He turned 32 this month and speaks with a veteran’s perspective and clarity. He’s playing in the Twin Cities Pro Am this summer to stay in shape. Asked the biggest lesson he has learned from his career, he didn’t hesitate.

“Gratitude,” he said.

“As a young athlete, you’re always striving for something,” he continued. “It’s like, ‘I want to do this. I want to compete against this person.’ There’s still a lot of value in that. But once you kind of check those boxes, it’s like, now what? When you’re grateful for whatever situation you’re in and the opportunities you have, that’s been motivating me.”

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His motivation is deeply personal. Muscala got a tattoo on his wrist last weekend of two words: Carpe diem.

His mother, Mary Maida, preached those words and that “seize the day” message to her family often before she died last September after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020. She was 65.

“She fought super hard,” Muscala said. “Facing those odds, her mindset and energy were so inspiring. I told her that the last night here with us. I was like, we’re going to keep that energy going for you because that’s what you taught us. Whenever I’m thinking I’m having a not-so-good day, I think of that.”

He vows to use that as his compass when he starts over with a new team, the Wizards, in a few months. He doesn’t lament being traded again. He’s excited and grateful for another opportunity.

“I have a renewed sense of love for the game as it gets closer to the end for me playing,” he said.

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