“We have a bunch of good guys,” Kyle Korver said. “We don’t have the jerk in the locker room you stay away from.” | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Bulls at Raptors
The facts: 6, Ch. 26, 1000-AM.
Updated: April 22, 2012 10:13AM
Stan Van Gundy was reflecting on his 2008-09 Orlando Magic team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals when the current Bulls entered the conversation.
“That team did have very, very good chemistry and very high character,” he said of the Magic. “That’s what I see in the Chicago team now, too. I’m talking basketball character. Guys who are unselfish and are willing to play roles and aren’t worried about how many shots they get. Guys who can come in after not having played a lot and are ready and help a team win like what John Lucas has been doing for Chicago, like what Jimmy Butler is doing.
“To me, those are the great teams. Not necessarily record-wise, but those are the great teams. That’s what chemistry is all about. I thought we had it that year, and I certainly see it in the Bulls and that’s why they have been able to overcome all those injuries.”
You don’t have to be in the locker room or on the team bus to see it. It’s visible from the last row of any NBA arena or the comfort of your living room. The Bulls have a bond that ties them together and makes them greater than the sum of their parts.
Vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman value character, which is where it all starts. Coach Tom Thibodeau preaches selflessness and sharing the ball, but it’s difficult to identify whether chemistry is a product of an elaborate process or dumb luck.
“You’ve got guys in this league who never, ever like their teammates,” Rip Hamilton said. “It happens. I’ve been in a lot of situations in my career where guys came to that championship team [in Detroit] and said, ‘Wow, guys really care for each other.’ Here, guys genuinely care for the guy next to him. It’s like a brotherhood. That doesn’t happen. Not in this business, with all the money and everything else involved. You have to get lucky.”
It was evident in the rout of the Magic on Monday. The Bulls played with the enthusiasm of kids dismissed early from school, but with a purpose. Starters were cheering for third-string point guard Lucas III, who scored 20 points. Meanwhile, the Magic looked as if it would rather be in class.
Did anyone notice Dwight Howard joking around with several Bulls players after one of the worst losses in Magic history? That attitude wouldn’t endear himself to Derrick Rose and like-minded Bulls players who relish winning above all else. That’s why a trade for Howard might not have been the boon for the Bulls that many believe despite his talent.
Even if there were no salary cap, you can’t buy what the Bulls have. That’s why Forman and Paxson were willing to leave well enough alone before the trade deadline.
“Our abilities mesh well together,” Kyle Korver said. “We don’t have a lot of the same person. We’ve got good pieces that fit together, and for us to be playing at the highest level, we have to be playing together. We have a bunch of good guys. We don’t have the jerk in the locker room you have to stay away from or worry about. Guys genuinely like each other.
“You have a superstar who is incredibly humble. That makes a huge difference. He doesn’t create the different tiers in the locker room. We’re one unit. We don’t deal with a lot of off-the-court drama. It’s incredibly rare.”
Tom Thibodeau and Van Gundy are NBA lifers who study every aspect of the game through a microscope. When it comes to chemistry, however, they’re hardly experts. Both coaches understand its importance but admit they don’t fully understand where it comes from.
“Chuck Daly had a great line about chemistry, something along the lines of, I don’t know how you get it, but when you have it, you know it,” Thibodeau said. “When you have it, don’t do anything to mess it up. I think there’s something to it.”