Bulls have big goals for short season

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Familiar sounds echoed in the Berto Center gym Friday night.

Carlos Boozer hollering, Tom Thibodeau teaching and the squeak-squeak-squeaking of fresh basketball shoes hitting the floor.

For basketball junkies, it was the sound of a season. Think Dr. Dre's long-awaited "Detox" album in high-tops.

While the confusing aftereffects of the lockout and the ugliness of the Chris Paul situation resonated around the league, it was a businesslike jam session on Day 1 for the Chicago Bulls, who return mostly intact from last season's 62-win team.

The only minor distraction was Keith Bogans getting pulled off the floor before practice started as the team tries to buy time on his contract option and figure out which available shooting guard it can lure for the midlevel exception.

Former Pistons guard Richard Hamilton was waived Friday, making him an attractive option for a team that needs an offensively oriented backcourt option. Former Bull Jamal Crawford and Jason Richardson are other interesting names out there.

The Bulls, and Derrick Rose especially, are good about steering clear of recruiting players. Rose hates the idea of recruiting players. He said the quality of the organization and the city itself should be good enough. Thankfully, this situation will be dealt with soon, one way or another.

"I'm fine with the team I have," Rose said.

But when he was broached specifically about Hamilton, Rose, typically honest, addressed it, "Rip is a winner. There's nothing bad you can say about him. He won a championship. He knows how to win, he came from winning programs. If he comes in, I know we'll be happy to have him."

If anyone could benefit from a more reliable partner in the backcourt, it's Rose. Especially with the Heat picking up Shane Battier, giving them another big swingman who plays defense. Rose is sticking with his humble line about taking the blame for last season's loss in the Eastern Conference finals.

"The reason we lost last year, I told you, it was because of me," he said. "Not making the right plays, not passing to my teammates when they were open, just making that extra pass."

If everyone takes that kind of selfless attitude, the Bulls can go deep in the playoffs again. But that kind of talk, while enticing in December, belongs far down the road. Thibodeau, like a Buddhist monk, wants his team living in a Zenlike state of "now."

And besides the lingering situation at shooting guard, the first day under Thibs' basketball monastery was familiar for the returning players. Thibodeau kicked things off with a three-hour practice as he gauged the condition of his players, who, thanks to the lockout, had a nice, long vacation. With the advent of personal trainers and personal chefs, waistbands didn't get a workout at practice.

"The conditioning is better than I thought," Thibodeau said. "We still have a long way to go with the conditioning, but it was better than I thought."

Thibodeau had the Bulls scrimmaging, and he's going to have quicken the pace to get these guys ready for a Christmas Day opener in Los Angeles.

"There is nothing that can simulate the game condition," he said. "You can run on a treadmill or get on a bike, but until you take that contact and run up and down, it's totally different. That's where we have to make up ground. We have to get used to the contact again and being able to endure."

The Bulls were the surprise hit last season, winning the most regular-season games behind the league's most valuable player, Rose. Comparisons to last season will linger through the summer, mostly from outside nuisances, like the media. With that in mind, it was obvious that Thibodeau gave his players talking points.

"We can't think about last year, that's the biggest thing," Rose said. "This year is totally new. We're still trying to prove ourselves. We know we're a good team, but we just got to go out there and play games. Right now it's whoever can get together quick enough, can jell quick enough and go out there and play good basketball."

This attitude will be easy to fake, but tough to master. Complacency, not the Miami Heat, is this team's biggest challenge. Being a title contender, and living up to expectations, is new ground for these guys. And no matter what they say, this group knows how good it was in 2010 and how good it can be. It's going to take some serious discipline not to take games off during a hectic, shortened season.

"I think the important thing for us is not to focus on the lockout or the schedule, or some road trip, what happened last year," Thibodeau said. "All that stuff, that's for you guys."

When Thibodeau was an assistant on the New York Knicks during the 50-game season in 1999, he saw a veteran team that struggled with injuries during the regular season. Patrick Ewing spent that lockout in boardrooms as a labor leader. No Bulls were harmed during this lockout, and the organization, from Jerry Reinsdorf to Rose, pretty much stayed out the spotlight.

With that in mind, Rose said his teammates looked like they were in good shape, though he was surprised that Luol Deng showed up with a mohawk.

"I guess everyone is getting new hairstyles," Rose said. "Carlos got hair, that's kind of amazing."

The NBA: Where Carlos Boozer having hair happens!

Rose, the budding clotheshorse, said he will be keeping his style intact. After getting over the disappointment of losing in the Eastern Conference finals, he worked out with his trainer and a few NBA players in Los Angeles for most of the summer. He avoided the summer league circuit, as is his nature, but he put more miles on his running shoes than Forrest Gump.

"Running, just running period," he said. "In L.A., getting up running in my backyard, around the tennis court. I remember going to Bora Bora and just running in my Jacuzzi."

That begged the follow-up question: How big was that Jacuzzi?

"It was a nice size," Rose said. "I had a nice-sized Jacuzzi."

Ah, to be Derrick Rose, who will make enough money to buy Bora Bora when he signs a new contract extension, thanks in part to the "Derrick Rose Rule," which allows him to make a little more than he would have under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

"Money is the last thing I'm worried about right now," he said. "It's the championship that's on my mind."

Like the sound of sneakers in the evening, that is music to every Bulls fan's ears.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.