<
>

A key for Bulls? They like each other

CHICAGO -- After losing Carlos Boozer (broken hand) for the first month of the season, and Joakim Noah (torn thumb ligament) for the next two, how can the Chicago Bulls be so good?

Sure, Derrick Rose is playing at an MVP level and has carried the team, and first-year coach Tom Thibodeau has brought his blue-collar defensive approach over from Boston. But in many players' minds, aside from the talent on the roster, and the new defensive schemes, there's a simple reason the Bulls are playing so well together on the floor.

They actually like one another off of it.

"It's more like a college team," Rose said recently. "Where if we go out to eat, you always have a teammate going out to eat with you. Shopping, playing video games, whatever. Somebody's always with someone on this team."

Unlike some other teams in the NBA, the Bulls actually seem to enjoy each other's company. It's not unusual to see most of the team go out together on the road or hang out in each other's hotel rooms playing video games. It's simply the norm for this team.

"It's one of the closest teams I've been on," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We talk almost every other day. We play around. When we're on the road, we all go out together, we eat together. It's a real tight-knit group."

So where did that bond come from, especially considering all the moves the Bulls made in the offseason? Rose isn't sure, but it's clear from his response that a lot of credit has to go to Thibodeau for creating the right culture and Bulls GM Gar Forman and Executive VP John Paxson for picking the right kinds of players.

"The personality of this team is guys that love playing the game that are good people," Rose said. "Where there's not any attitudes on this team, we just love hanging with each other."

"When one guy is down everybody is always there to pick him up," Gibson added. "There's no selfishness on this team. Everybody is just trying to get to the next step, winning, and trying to get to a championship one day."

The players aren't sure how much the bond off the floor actually helps their record, but they know that a team that doesn't like being around each other can have problems. For example, reports surfaced late Saturday night that Sacramento Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins got into a fight with teammate Donte Greene. Cousins was left behind by the team before they traveled to Phoenix for a game on Sunday night and now awaits to see if he will have to sit even longer. The entire episode only underscores just how crucial the players' relationships can be.

"I think it means a lot," Noah said of his team's cohesiveness. "I think it has a lot to do [with the success a team has]. When you have teammates that respect each other, it really makes a huge difference. I think everybody's in this for the right reasons. And I think that's very important."

But as important as chemistry is off the floor, Noah knows that talent almost always wins out.

"It's not just a question of being close," he said. "I've been on teams that have been very close, and we couldn't win a game. It's more than that. It's about sacrificing for one another and not being selfish. At the end of the day, yeah, I think I've been on teams that maybe we've hung out more. But that doesn't particularly mean you're going to win more basketball games. I think it helps, but at the end of the day, it's about playing for the right reasons that's more important."