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John Salmons hoping to play in opener, cut day looms for Skinner and Hobson, Stern's CBA posturing continues

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JS: Salmons, Maggette on target for opener
The Bucks may not have everyone available for Wednesday's opener in New Orleans, but the news on John Salmons and Corey Maggette continues to sound promising. With Andrew Bogut returning a week ago, Salmons was the only likely starter not involved in the last three preseason games, but he's returned to practice and could play some role against the Hornets. Via Charles Gardner:

"He went through the whole practice and didn't miss anything," Skiles said. "He went through all the scrimmages and everything. He looked good.

"We'll see how he reacts tomorrow (Monday). But it was good to see him back playing."

Meanwhile, Maggette is still working his way back from ankle surgery, but he looked as advertised (and then some) in his first action of the preseason on Friday, earning a ridiculous 20 free throw attempts in just 14 minutes. I've been arguing all summer that Maggette's ideal role would be as a sixth man, and I'm sticking with that as game one approaches, particularly given his lack of reps and Carlos Delfino's excellent play of late. 

On the down side, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jon Brockman continue to miss practice with ankle injuries, while Chris Douglas-Roberts tweeted that he took a finger to the eye in practice this weekend. And while Delfino and Maggette are nominally competing for the starting small forward spot, don't be surprised to see them on the court together a fair bit, either. With Salmons, CDR, and Mbah a Moute all working to get healthy, Delfino may see a fair bit of burn at shooting guard in addition to his more usual SF spot.

Woelfel: Oberto draws interest
Over-the-hill big man Fabricio Oberto signed with the Blazers over the weekend, but the mere fact that the Bucks had interest in him provides some insight into their continued roster concerns. Gery Woelfel spoke to Oberto's agent Herb Rudoy before he signed with Portland:      

"He (Oberto) is definitely interested in playing for the Bucks and he'd really love to play with Carlos Delfino," Rudoy said. "Right now, they (the Bucks) are sorting through some things, so we'll see."

The Bucks are of course "sorting through" their continued depth issues at center, with Brockman's injury leaving them especially thin behind Bogut. Their second-best center is their starting PF Drew Gooden (never ideal), and among their guaranteed contracts they've got little more than the green Larry Sanders and the undersized (and currently injured) Brockman who can reasonably man the pivot. Keeping Brian Skinner (or someone like him) would be an easy and low-risk choice if the Bucks had an open roster spot, but with 15 guaranteed contracts already on the books, the Bucks would be forced to cut bait on injured 37th overall pick Darington Hobson to keep Skinner or another warm body like him. And with 15-man rosters due by Monday night, the Bucks don't have much more time to make their decision.

A month ago I would have guessed Hobson would be kept in spite of the likelihood that he misses the season, but the Bucks have been sending some seriously mixed messages in the interim, especially with Brockman's return up in the air. Talking to Erick Dampier was understandable given his continued usefulness, though the pursuit of Oberto--who looks pretty much done at this point--smacks of more desperation. Signing either would have meant an end to Hobson's brief career in Milwaukee, so obviously the Bucks are open to the idea of cutting him. But clearly the Bucks aren't altogether sold on Skinner either, and understandably so. He wasn't particularly good in his earlier stints with the Bucks, and at 34 even his mediocre best days are behind him. But absent the acquisition of a better player, are they sold on Skinner enough to send Hobson packing? Skinner didn't play more than five minutes in either of the final two preseason games, so it would appear that Skiles was at least trying to plan for life without him.    

ESPN: NBA owners float contraction
The owners and players have been doing plenty of CBA posturing of late, but you can't talk about contraction without at least raising a few eyebrows, particularly in places like Milwaukee. Still, it should be noted that David Stern tried to diffuse the idea of contraction almost as quickly as he acknowledged it, saying that the owners wanted to support small marker teams and expected a "more robust revenue sharing" system to come from the next CBA. Remember that Stern works for the owners--none of whom appear eager to have their teams wiped off the map--and the players have even less incentive to see contraction than the rich old guys they work for because of the job losses it would mean.

It's all part of the often silly posturing going on as the two sides wrangle over a successor to the current CBA that expires at the end of this season. And the funniest part? Both sides seem willing to admit it's all just a game as they wait for things to get serious next spring and summer. Considering how much both sides have at stake--and the memories of the 1998 lockout--Chris Sheridan is among those expecting a deal to be struck at the last minute.

On the more negative side, the talk of contraction inspired CBS' Ken Berger to peg the Bucks among the teams he'd like to see gone. 

I'm all for that. Saying goodbye to the Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Bucks and Bobcats would save the league a few hundred million in needless salaries and improve the product dramatically. When the NBA had 23 teams in 1980-81, having multiple Hall of Famers on the same team was the norm. Back then, the Heat would've been nothing special. Today, they're a national spectacle covered 24 hours a day.

I think Berger's a good journalist, so I have nothing bad to say about his reporting or knowledge of the sport. But a quick scan of the current Hall of Fame list shows around 22 HOFers active during the 80/81 season, suggesting it was by no means the "norm" to have multiple Hall of Famers on each of the league's 23 teams. No doubt that getting rid of four teams (and thus the 60 worst players in the league) would raise the overall level of play, but do the math: 60 players out of 450 doesn't magically make every roster loaded with superstars.

It's also laughable to think the Heat would have been "nothing special" with just seven fewer teams in the league. Less special, sure. But let's not act as though every other team had a trio that stacked up to Dwyane, LeBron and Bosh back in the day. They didn't. For instance, the Celtics won the title in 80/81 with a lineup that included four HOFers--Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Tiny Archibald, but don't overlook the circumstances. McHale was a 20 mpg rookie who averaged 10 ppg and less than five boards. Archibald was at the tail end of his career averaging less than 14 ppg and 8 apg, good but hardly HOF-worthy on its own. And we haven't even mentioned that the Heat's buzz has as much to do with the star-hungry 24-hour news cycle and the way LBJ egged on the media circus than the team's actual talent level. 

Long story short: the Bucks aren't going anywhere in the near term. But while we can feel comfortable that Herb Kohl isn't letting the team move (or be contracted) anytime soon, the team and city leaders are kidding themselves if they think that the Bradley Center is a long-term solution to the arena issue. I don't think they do, but Kohl isn't in a position to ask for public money and the city's politicians will have a hard time pushing a taxpayer-funded stadium in a bad economy. So for now we're stuck in a waiting game, hoping that improved performance on the court and an improving economy might get the dialogue moving.