It’s displayed in a fast break where Taj Gibson outlets a pass to Rajon Rondo who tosses it ahead to Dwyane Wade who touches an alley-oop to Jimmy Butler without the ball ever hitting the floor.
A play so quick, natural and effortless it felt like boom-boom-boom.
It’s displayed after a morning shootaround in New York on a Halloween morning where Isaiah Canaan puts on a zipper mask that covers his face and is pelted with hits on top of his head from one teammate while another holds the mask so he can’t move.
It’s displayed where Jimmy Butler is holding a stereo speaker playing one of Rajon Rondo’s favorite Drake songs, and as Rondo requests for Butler to start the track over, Butler says “I gotta do what my point guard says”…as the speakers go boom, boom, boom.
The laughter and jokes that emanate from the locker room or the practice floor aren’t just because the Chicago Bulls are 3-0, but it sure helps expedite team bonding and chemistry.
“Even when we’re not playing basketball, even if we’re throwing a football, if we’re playing cards, if we’re just sitting and talking, everybody is locked in, everybody is having fun, everybody is listening, and everybody wants to get to know each other a little bit better,” Jimmy Butler said. “That’s a major difference. We actually spend a lot of time off the floor with each other, which I didn’t know could help so much, but it really does.”
From the late-night gym sessions to the impromptu film sessions players have been staging amongst themselves, the difference is palpable. Teams don’t have to like each other in order to win, but it sure helps when you’re trying to develop chemistry that players aren’t indifferent toward one another or worse, holding animosity toward their teammates.
“I’m not (surprised) because we’ve got a bunch of good guys, they want everybody to do well and want to do well themselves, so everybody is in the gym, everybody is around one another,” Butler said. “We’re getting to know each in and out, so I think that’s going to help us win a lot more games when it comes to the chemistry aspect of it.”
The Bulls’ best start since the real glory days is punctuated by two blowouts as the Bulls are second in assists to the Indiana Pacers (28.7-to-28.3), playing with a togetherness that wasn’t seen at all last season.
It’s almost like the team collectively got out of a bad relationship and their new girlfriend is doing all the things the other wouldn’t do, as the previous relationship had gotten stale over time.
“I think everybody had been playing with one another so long, maybe it was time for a new look for a lot of different guys,” Butler said. “Not in a bad way, but sometimes that’s the way it looked and felt out on the court. It’s a new team now. As much as we talk about last year’s team, I think we should start focusing on this year’s team a lot more.”
Focus on the new relationship, one that’s fresh and full of life. One that isn’t beaten down by misunderstandings, disappointments and changing roles. Last year’s team was like two people who stopped talking to one another, just going through the motions.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t figure out what buttons to press to motivate his team in his first go-round as head coach. Part of it was because it’s not in his nature to be that kind of coach; the other part was the team had no fight left to give.
The Bulls weren’t so much fractured as they were punch drunk, and thus the brew became stale.
“In my mind, I’ve moved on,” Hoiberg said. “In August when our guys started rolling into town, you could sense immediately we would have a chance because of what our veteran guys brought to this.”
The locker room apathy took a toll on Butler and Hoiberg’s relationship before it ever got a chance to develop, prompting Butler’s comments about wanting Hoiberg to be tougher on players.
The translation: We’re not working hard enough, and Hoiberg was an easy target. If there was a sense that Hoiberg was withdrawn from the group, probably because he felt like he had a mature group rather than not being invested, the feeling isn’t that way now.
“He’s definitely changed for the better,” Butler said. “I look at him a lot differently, as well. It seems like he knows his guys a lot better now, which is great. Look at him joke around with us if you were in the locker room after games or before games, throwing the football, it’s the littlest things that go the longest.”
“Now we know that he’s in the fight with us, he’s one of us. Maybe I judged somebody too quickly last year, but I know he’s here, he’s working and that’s all you can ask. When you work everyone is going to go to war for you.’’
Bringing on Wade and Rondo have helped Hoiberg cover what he either lacks or isn’t as comfortable as doing yet. Strong leaders who are creating a culture in the locker room and more than anything, their natural vocal nature is bringing everybody together.
Whether it’s team dinners organized by Rondo or Wade having guys over to his house, it’s a different bunch, regardless of the record. And the players insist the spirit of what they’re doing will continue even when adversity arises.
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Wade, for one, isn’t looking ahead but knows what’s on the horizon.
“You’re not gonna win every game. But you have to understand what wins (games),” he said. “You’ll see a team that plays well and then you’ll see them not play well. More times than not you have to get to your game. The cool thing about what we’ve accomplished is we have a long way to go. We’re still working and learning each other. But it’s great to start off this way. If you start off 0-3, it’s a different mentality.”
If things started out the way many predicted, the call for abandon ship would’ve occurred before the team flew over the Brooklyn Bridge.
“It (would) lead to a lot of questions and I’m glad we don’t have to answer it,” Wade said.