Ersan Ilyasova returns to practice, Hammond talks core, Larry Sanders works on his temper, Bucks look for new floor solutions

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

There's no shortage of news as the Bucks' season opener on Wednesday in New York draws near. Most importantly: their starting five may actually be healthy enough to play.

FS Wisconsin | Gruman: Bucks' starting five all back at practice
Good news! Monday's practice saw Ersan Ilyasova back playing five-on-five basketball for the first time since spraining his ankle in Cleveland on October 8, providing hope that he'll be ready to play some role on Wednesday when the Bucks open their season in New York against the Knicks. To pile on the sunshine even further, Brandon Knight also returned to practice after missing the last two games with a nagging hamstring injury, while Caron Butler was back after being scratched from Friday's abbreviated game with his own ankle injury. Andrew Gruman reports:

"We didn't go hard today, but I was feeling much better," Ilyasova said. "It's a day-by-day thing now. Tomorrow we have another practice.

"We're hearing really positive things right now. I'll practice tomorrow and go a little bit harder, and we'll see what I feel."

Drew further indicated that Khris Middleton and Butler would once again start at the forward spots in the event Ilyasova isn't ready. And honestly I feel pretty torn about it. The skeptic in me sees it as a gimmicky premise: we barely know what Middleton can do as a rotation swingman, let alone in a role where he's starting and splitting small-ball power forward duties with Caron Butler. Besides, if John Henson is your best backup big man and quite possibly your long-term solution next to Larry Sanders, why bother starting an unproven small ball guy like Middleton to begin with? Why not just start your best five and see what you have?

That's probably what I'd advocate, but there are some good counterarguments, too. For one, there's certainly an argument to be made for maintaining as much rotation consistency as possible, especially given that Ilyasova will presumably be back in the starting five in the next week. That would suggest that there's an advantage in keeping Henson and Zaza Pachulia paired as the second team big men, a combo that had some nice moments together the past two games. And perhaps more importantly, there's no rule that says Middleton starting means that he'll have to play 30 minutes and close the game, too. While the Bucks started quickly against the Knicks in Green Bay last week, it wasn't because Middleton (0/3 fg, no points in 16 minutes) had much to do with it. After struggling early he didn't see much burn the rest of the game, and you'd expect him to be on a short leash should he start on Wednesday. Hopefully he plays more like he did against the Grizzlies and Timberwolves, but it's not like the Bucks' future is riding on him either.

Matchups are of course the other key variable here, and the Knicks pose some interesting ones primarily because of Carmelo Anthony. Last season the Bucks hid Ilyasova against smaller players (everyone from Iman Shumpert to Jason Kidd) whenever Anthony was at power forward, but Mike Woodson has been starting him at SF most of the preseason next to Tyson Chandler and Andrea BargnaniWoodson was noncommittal on the topic Monday however, which means that we could also see a smaller starting front line featuring Metta World Peace, Anthony and Chandler.

A more traditional Knick lineup would make it easier to play Ilyasova, though it's feasible Ilyasova--assuming his ankle doesn't leave him too immobile--could also guard Artest World Peace and leave Butler to cope with Anthony. On the flip side, the Bucks could also go small again, which even against the Bargnani-at-PF lineup could work given a) Bargs doesn't typically punish smaller guys on the block and b) his lack of foot speed could give Butler or Middleton an advantage off the bounce. Stay tuned.

HOOPSWORLD | Hammond Optimistic About Bucks’ Core
Alex Kennedy's latest reiterates much of the messaging we've been hearing from GM John Hammond this preseason, including the increased confidence the Bucks have in Giannis Antetokounmpo's NBA readiness:

"We didn't know exactly how soon he was going to be able to get on floor or how soon we'd be able to play him when we drafted him and going into training camp, we still had no idea," Hammond admitted. "But through training camp and through the exhibition season thus far, I think we do feel confident that we can put him on the floor and that he can play. There's no greater experience than being on the floor and learning in live action. We're expecting that to happen for him. As far as what his ceiling his, I really don't know what his ceiling is. I think he has a chance to be - and I say this in a very guarded manner - he has a chance to be a special player. I do think he has a chance to be a special player in this league."

JS | Kohl holds the line at MMAC luncheon
Speaking of reiterating messages, Herb Kohl hit on his customary talking points at the annual Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Bucks kickoff luncheon on Monday, covering topics that included tanking (not doing it!), a new arena (yes, please), and the Bucks' problems with their shiny new floor (they'll figure it out!).

As for specifics, the most pressing issue at present is the floor. Since no one wants to put multi-million dollar athletes out to play basketball on a slip-and-slide, the NBA planned to send out its own team to investigate the issue this week. And if a solution isn't found before the weekend, the Bucks would likely have to re-install their old floor in time for the opener.

FS Wisconsin | Larry Sanders still working to control emotional outbursts
Another good read here from Gruman, this time detailing the efforts of Sanders to better manage his (in)famous in-game temper tantrums.

"I worked very hard, before and after games," Sanders said. "I spent a lot of quiet time, meditation, listening to classical music or gospel music. I spent a lot of time with God, my maker, just calming myself down. I was able to be in full communication with him throughout the game.

"It takes a lot to do that. When I get in those hot situations, it's hard for me to see my way out of them. I have to be pulled out of them. I have to refocus in that area."

SB Nation | The best and worst case scenarios for every NBA team
You're either going to laugh or be pretty annoyed with this one. Either way, the Bucks probably deserve it after the past few seasons...

SI.com | Bucks season preview
SI's annual "Enemy Lines" preview with an anonymous scout's take is usually a mix of interesting and head-scratching, and this year's version would seem no different. The interesting: Brandon Knight expects too much of himself and...well, that's probably about it. The head-scratching: the implied message that Scott Skiles didn't play Larry Sanders because he's a good coach (OK), John Henson can shoot 18-foot jumpers (Cool! But seriously guy, he can't), and Luke Ridnour is a consistent three-point shooter (basic stats disagree).

Power Ranking / Season Projection Roundup
It's about that time, isn't?

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