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Bucks v. Hornets Preview: There's No Turning Back Now

A franchise-altering offseason gives way to a team with young promise, intriguing possibilities, and the potential for something really fun.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2014-2015 Opening Night
October 29, 2014
Time Warner Cable Arena | Charlotte, NC
6:00 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin/SportsSouth | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight
PG Kemba Walker
Khris Middleton SG Lance Stephenson
Jared Dudley SF Gerald Henderson
Jabari Parker PF Marvin Williams
Larry Sanders
C Al Jefferson
2013/14 Advanced Stats
91.8 (24th) Pace 92.4 (21st)
103.0 (26th) ORtg 103.6 (24th)
111.8 (30th) DRtg 103.8 (5th)

Opponent Coverage: At The Hive | Queen City Hoops
Game Coverage: Bucks vs Hornets coverage

Update: According to Charles Gardner, Jared Dudley will start at small forward tonight. Giannis Antetokounmpo will come off the bench but should still play significant minutes.

This feels strange, doesn't it?

After suffering through offseason after offseason of aimless drifting through the NBA waters, the summer of 2014 was a tsunami, pushing the boat carrying the Milwaukee Bucks back to shore, forcing an organization long content with average into the early phases of a drastic overhaul.  A restructuring in the physical, financial and psychological sense... from top to bottom, inside to out, private to public.  The end goal?  A modern, sparkling ship, charging forward into the basketball ocean with "MILWAUKEE" emblazoned on the side.

What an offseason this was.  Now... let's play basketball.

The Bucks open the 2014-2015 season in Charlotte, a place undergoing a similar franchise transition.  Gone are the Bobcats, their .364 winning percentage, and their winless playoff record.  Back are the Hornets after an eleven year odyssey in the Treme. Buzz City has returned, and the Bucks are the first to experience the new age of the Charlotte Hornets.

But we aren't here to discuss the rejuvenation of basketball in the Queen City.  We've got plenty on our plate to pick at with this club, and plenty of questions that remain unanswered after the preseason.

In fact, I struggle to determine what the largest question happens to be that looms over this team.  Is it Jason Kidd, who worked his way out of Brooklyn after a solid rookie coaching season to join his friend Marc Lasry in Milwaukee?  Is it Jabari Parker, who showcased an electric offensive flare at Duke and rolls into Brewtown with the highest expectations of a draftee since Andrew Bogut?  Is it Giannis Antetokounmpo, who burst onto the NBA landscape with highlight reel dunks and blocks in his rookie year, accompanied by his ability to charm the hell out of everyone, and is now being looked to as a leader already?  Or is it Larry Sanders, who followed up a stellar 2012-2013 season with a catastrophic fall from grace off the floor?

Behind them, you have a handful of guys looking to improve after mediocre-at-best seasons last year, such as John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and O.J. Mayo.  A young point guard duo of Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters seek stability, with Knight hoping to prove doubters wrong on his ability to run the show and Wolters ready to stake his own claim as the sure-handed answer.  You have Khris Middleton, who emerged as arguably the biggest surprise from a nightmare year last season, still working to earn a regular spot on the wing.  Newcomer Jared Dudley will make that challenge harder.

Kendall Marshall and Jerryd Bayless are new, too, with their goals set on stabilizing the backcourt and give Knight and Wolters a run for their money. And then there are injured second rounders Johnny O'Bryant III and Damien Inglis, who will need to get healthy before they can take a stab at keeping the Bucks' decent track record of successful second round picks afloat.

To this day, no one knows how these pieces will fit together, not even Kidd.  A preseason that featured a ton of tinkering and experimenting will bleed into the first quarter of the regular season, at the very least.  If we can take one thing out of Kidd's time in Brooklyn, it's that he wasn't afraid to tinker.  In the second half of last year, the Nets became stalwarts at ball movement, something we can expect the Bucks to attempt.

The first test will be a Charlotte club that finished ninth in opponents' effective field goal percentage (.491),  fifth in defensive rating (103.8 points allow per 100 possessions), and tops in defensive rebounding percentage (77.6%).  Head coach Steve Clifford led a Bobcats team severely lacking in talent to the playoffs, earning him fourth in NBA Coach of the Year voting in his first season.

This year, the Horncats add Lance Stephenson to the fold in the search for consistent offense from deep with Al Jefferson down low (Stephenson is questionable with a groin injury, point guard Kemba Walker likewise with a foot problem).  Jefferson gives Larry Sanders, who says he's good to go following minor surgery two weeks ago, a strong test to start the year.

You know what?  I know what the biggest question is, upon further thought.  It's not on any specific individual or role.  It's actually pretty simple... how is this all going to work?  It's a question that most Bucks fans have asked to start every season for the last decade, but in a different context.  There's not a hint of pessimism or cynicism lacing this question this year.  It's curious excitement.  A real, honest-to-God sense that something better is near, and the pieces to the puzzle aren't put together yet, nor will they be at year's end.  But at least there's a puzzle.

Who knows, maybe years from now we'll look back at this game in Charlotte as more than just a basketball game, but the rebirth of two dormant basketball fan bases.

Stranger things have happened.

All aboard.

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