It's here! And tickets are still available! Yes, NBA Basketball is back in Milwaukee for the first time in over five long months. As per tradition, the Bucks and Bulls are starting preseason off with an I-94 rivalry game, though both teams will be missing key pieces--namely Andrew Bogut and Carlos Boozer. Hit the jump for the full preview.
JS: Bogut's return to BC set for Tuesday
[Update] OK, maybe he won't. Steve Haywood from ESPN Milwaukee tweets that Bogut will sit out tonight, but assures us that "If it was a playoff game, he'd play." The playoffs are about six months away, so hopefully we don't hear that line too often, but then again there's no sense in rushing anything with three weeks until the first regular season game. Jim Paschke clarifies that it's just hand soreness. Read on for the original report, much of which is no longer relevant [/Update]
If I were to make a list of 300 things I was hoping to see in the preseason, numbers 1-247 would be "KEEP BOGUT HEALTHY." Tonight will be the first test, as Skiles will indeed be throwing him right into the fire. Via Charles Gardner:
"I'll try to get him over 20 minutes for sure, maybe half the game," Skiles said after the Bucks' practice session Monday at the Cousins Center. "We'll see how the game's going, how he's feeling. More than likely we won't play him 30 minutes, that's for sure."
Bogut was also complaining yesterday about soreness in his surgically-repaired right hand, so that's further good news. But for all the worries about Bogut's health, it says a lot that the team isn't keeping him on a short leash in the first week of camp. That would be the obvious move if they were worried about the structural integrity of the right side of his upper body, right? It's very possible that Bogut's injuries prevent him from playing at 100% of his previous abilities, at least in the near term, but the Bucks seem surprisingly disinterested in taking it slow with him. Which is either stupid or very encouraging. Giving them the benefit of the doubt--after everything that's happened, you wouldhope the Bucks would be a bit paranoid about this sort of thing--the obvious suggestion is that Bogut's injuries aren't likely to get worse from regular action, which is probably the most encouraging thing we could hear. I'll gladly take 85% Bogut for 100% of the time over 100% Bogut just 60% of the time.
Boozer injury headlines Bulls' week
Though the preseason is all about starting slowly, I'm going to assume that both teams will go with their opening night starters, health permitting. The big injury news for Chicago is Carlos Boozer falling over a bag in his house and breaking his pinky finger, which will likely cost him the next eight weeks of games and plenty of snide comments. OK, so it was the hand bone right above the pinky, but it's always easier to be cynical about an injury when you reference the pinky, isn't it? Besides, it makes me feel pretty good about myself--not because I'm a Bucks fan who recognizes the injury probably helps my team in the standings (I wouldn't dream of that), but because I've both lived in houses and owned bags my entire life and not once injured myself falling over a bag. Frank Madden 1, Carlos Boozer 0. In the backcourt, Ronnie Brewer is also out and K.C. Johnson reports Keith Bogans (!) will start in his place.
Injuries aside, Bulls fans can take a fair bit of solace in yesterday's announcement that Joakim Noah was signing a five year, $60 million extension. Those numbers mirror the deal Andrew Bogut signed a couple summers ago, and it's tough to find much fault with it given Noah's importance to the Bulls and the much crazier figures we saw thrown around this summer. The only criticism would be that the Bulls could have waited to re-sign Noah as a restricted free agent next summer (or whenever the next NBA season happens), when a new CBA might make free agent salaries more palatable. That's a big reason why rookie contract extensions have been so rare this summer, especially for guys like Al Horford (who I'd peg as the second best player in the '07 draft behind that Durant guy) and Jeff Green (who I'm not a huge fan of, but is likely to stick around OKC for a while). The other reason for the lack of extensions? Not many of the '07 draft's top picks have actually panned out. I'm looking at you Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, etc.
More importantly, Bucks fans can look forward to another half-decade of "Dude looks like a lady" chants from Squad Six during Bucks/Bulls games at the BC. To be honest, the level of personal hatred Noah gets from opposing fans has always surprised me a bit, though looking funny and being super-intense is always a good recipe for getting under the opposition crowd's skin. The fact that Noah let it be known he didn't want to come to Milwaukee before the 2007 draft? Yeah, that's not hurting the rivalry either.
Salmons, Maggette out
For the Bucks, John Salmons hasn't been practicing because of a sprained knee, but by the lack of discussion I'm hoping this is as minor as it's being made out to be. As previously reported, we know Illinois native Corey Maggette will miss most if not all of preseason as he recovers from ankle surgery, which means Carlos Delfino is presumably your opening night starter at small forward. Once again, no complaints on my end about the latter, but I do hope to see Maggette plugging in as the sixth man sooner rather than later.
As for tonight, Skiles could go a number of directions in replacing Salmons. I'd love to see Chris Douglas-Roberts get the nod just for entertainment value, and he is the purest two on the roster given the injuries to Salmons and Redd. But Skiles could also go with Luc Mbah a Moute for a bigger, defensive lineup or Keyon Dooling (who dinged up his shoulder but is expected to play) for the two PG backcourt look. Whatever, it will work itself out.
In July, Skiles said he'd be "shocked" if Gooden wasn't the opening night starter, so I have him penciled in at PF until I hear otherwise. Of course, he's also the Bucks' most experience backup center, so it'll be interesting to see how Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman fit into the frontcourt rotation and how much the Bucks' lack of an experienced, true center hurts them.
Skiles doesn't seem to know exactly how Sanders will fit into the Bucks' rotation, which isn't necessarily a bad thing at this point. Given his lack of lower body strength at this point--rewatch some of the Vegas games to see how he gets pushed around down low--he's probably best suited to the 4, but we all know that's the most crowded part of the Bucks' rotation. Whether he can hack it at center then becomes the key question, especially if Gooden is spending most of his time at power forward. Considering how regularly teams go small, I'm not too worried about Sanders being too light to play 5-10 minutes a game--afterall, there aren't that many beastly centers with post moves coming off the bench. Gardner caught up with Skiles to talk about Sanders' progress last week:
"We'll play him at some backup 5 (center), play him at some 4 (power forward) and see where he's at," Skiles said. "In the first exhibition game if we play him at the 5 and he's out there with Joakim (Noah), that's a tough matchup. That's tough for NBA starters.
"We'll try to make some determination of where he's at, try to build up to the first (regular-season) game and see if he can help us that early in the season or it's going to take a bit longer. Who knows?"
So it's anybody's guess as to how much Sanders will eventually end up playing. As much as Sanders was a terror on defense in Vegas--blocking shots, deflecting passes, tracking smaller players in help situations--Skiles still highlighted defense as an area where he still needed plenty of work. Much of that is positioning and knowing where to be on the court, which is central to how the Bucks became one of the league's best defenses last year. Sure, they have a couple of excellent individual defenders in Bogut and Mbah a Moute, but everyone else has to work hard, be in the right places, and make the right decisions as well. Sanders has all the tools to be an elite defender, but it's unlikely he's there right away. That's OK. My main hope is that he crashes the boards, hits the open 15-17 footer, and uses his length and mobility to energize the defense for short stretches.
As expected for a while, second round pick Darington Hobson will be out for a few months with the mystery groin/hip injury that first appeared in July, but presumably the Bucks will wait it out and hope that he can be back and practicing with the team sometime in the new year. He only has a one-year guaranteed contract, so my current assumption is that the Bucks will simply hope he recovers and then sign him to another minimum-level contract next summer. Otherwise he could be cut to make room for a veteran (see Erick Dampier discussion), but for now that seems less likely.
Then there's Tiny Gallon. He's taken time off from Twitter-bombing the universe to take part in camp, so it will be interesting to see how much action he sees in the preseason and where he ends up. With so many bodies in the frontcourt, I wouldn't expect too much, but then again the Bucks need to make a decision on him rather quickly. As a non-guaranteed contract on a team with a full roster, Gallon's the odd man out at the moment. His signing was announced on September 10 (though it's not even listed in the NBA transactions wire) so the 30-day moratorium on trading a newly-signed draft pick will be over next week. I'm not sure any team will be willing to give up a future second rounder for him at this point given he's likely to be an unrestricted free agent in three weeks, but stranger things have happened.
[Update] : With Bogut out I'd love to see Sanders get a start next to Gooden tonight, but we could see any number of combinations since Gooden is probably the Bucks' most reliable center option with Bogut out. Either way, the bright side of the Aussie's absence is that there will be no shortage of opportunities for guys like Sanders to get some time on the court.