Ayon, who already missed five games, had surgery Friday. Still, the mood was upbeat as newly signed rookie center Mike Muscala impressed teammates in his first practice.
The Hawks are expecting some veteran starters to return on the road trip. Center Pero Antic, who has missed 16 games with a stress fracture in his right ankle, was cleared for limited portions of Friday’s practice. All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, isn’t far behind.
“Hopefully, we’ll have him back soon,” said coach Mike Budenholzer.
Millsap won’t play Sunday at Phoenix, and Antic’s status is day-to-day.
The Hawks, overwhelmed by injuries, have lost 10 of 11 and have dropped to eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks were third in the conference before the injuries.
“On this road trip, we’re hoping some of our guys can get back healthy and come back and contribute,” said point guard Jeff Teague. “We know we’re a good team, capable of beating any team on any given day. We’ve just got to come out with full energy and play our basketball.”
Ayon was the team’s third center to miss significant time. Al Horford, regarded as the team’s best player, was lost for the season in December with a torn right pectoral muscle. Antic and Ayon were the fill-in starters. Elton Brand, normally a backup forward, has been the most recent starting center.
Kyle Korver said he still believes in the system being installed by Budenholzer, the first-year coach and former long-time Spurs assistant.
“There are a few teams in the NBA that have real legit systems,” Korver said. “Their team is not built on a player, it’s built on a system. That’s what we’re trying to do. The systems take time to build, but I thought we hung in there with our system.”
Korver said the Spurs and Bulls are other teams “that have a system where a guy can be out for a week and it’s OK because the system is in place and we’re going to plug someone in. Utah was like that for a bunch of years.
“So that’s the vision for the Hawks and it’s been a tough little stretch but I think we’ve tried to keep hammering home the system. It’s going to happen. I’m bummed that we’re losing games, but I have great faith in where we’re going.”
Muscala, a 2013 second-round draft pick, signed on Thursday after the Hawks completed the buyout of his Spanish League contract.
The 6-foot-11, 230-pounds Muscala, a former Bucknell standout, averaged 14.6 points and led the ACB League in Spain with 7.8 rebounds per game.
“It’s a really good league, really physical,” Muscala said. “There are very good passers in that league, smart players. So it helped me mature a lot in that sense. Watching college games now, it’s night and day, the physicality.”
Muscala was with the Hawks’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
“Mike is somebody we feel strongly about and we hope is part of our future here long-term,” Budenholzer said. “This is an opportunity to get him into the mix. Include him and try to grow him as a player and part of our group.”
Budenholzer said Muscala’s “engine runs high, and he’s really a smart player on top of that. ... He brings a lot of things that we value, so hopefully he can start to show that and grow over these last 25 games.”
Teague said Muscala is “another big man who can shoot the basketball. He plays hard, with a lot of energy. (On Friday), he was great on the pick and roll and blocking shots and doing what he’s supposed to do. I think he can be a big help for us.”