How the team's chemistry off the court translates to play on the court

We've got a good group of guys that care and they are trying. - Coach Jim Boylen
Team timeout
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

The team's record doesn't reflect the level of camaraderie they've built with one another. It's an advantage they'll leverage in their next stretch of games.

There are many questions I consider. Like which came first the chicken or the egg? What happens after death? Why do round pizzas come in a square box? Can you cry underwater? What disease did cured ham really have? And do teammates have to like one another to be successful?

This, I believe, helps explain why I haven't invented anything and have yet to find the Q in the alphabet soup.

Though since the Bulls Monday play one of those statement games against the league leading Milwaukee Bucks, perhaps it's a good time to consider a prominent question about teammates. If team harmony and amity is significant, the Bucks are a good example. Their pregame wrestling theatrics led by former Bull Robin Lopez may be the best thing to watch in the NBA this season.


It suggests a group of players who go beyond teamwork.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen says that dynamic also represents the Bulls, even if the Bulls' 13-20 record doesn't quite match the Bucks' 29-5. Though the playing field could level some as Giannis Antetokounmpo is listed as questionable to play with back problems.

We've got a good group of guys that care and they are trying.

Coach Jim Boylen

"There's some joy with this group," Boylen says about his Bulls. "They like playing together, they like being together, they get along well. They've had more dinners together and more time together than any team I've been a part of since I've been here. That says something. We've got a good group of guys that care and they are trying."

But what does it really mean? Wins or Christmas cards when they are 50?

Bulls players regularly are seen joking with one another in the locker room and practice in the rare times media is around. Everyone appears to be included as there doesn't seem to be small cliques like with many teams.

Bulls laughing

"The thing I like about our group is in the meal room on the road there's eight or 10 of them who sit at the same table and they just talk and they laugh and they talk and they laugh," say Boylen. "I just sit there and listen to them and watch them; it's awesome. These things are important. We spend as much time together as we do. We have new guys. We still have to work on playing better basketball, but these things are important to me."

The Bulls do seem to have a good group of high character people. It's probably a big reason they've been able to survive that series of horrendous early season losses and improve, edging into a winning record in December at 7-6 with a defensive rating among the best in the NBA.

Though now comes the hard part with the Bucks, Jazz, Celtics, Mavericks, Pelicans and Pacers the next six games. Then there are road games in Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Convivial team dinners are nice; great talents probably are better. Now if you can have both, it does make for a special time. Perhaps the Bucks are experiencing that this season.

But the history of the NBA abounds with teams that required multiple buses to the arena, but then made the plays that mattered.

Guys want to play with each other. It makes for a better chemistry on the court. For us being a young team the difference is we need that type of chemistry, that type of flow. We need to be able to go out there and be at ease knowing your teammates are playing with you as opposed to playing for themselves.

Thaddeus Young

"You're going to have different situations, different locker rooms where teams don't get along but they play well on the court together," agreed Bulls veteran Thaddeus Young. "Look back at the '08 Celtics. They had all that controversy between (Rajon) Rondo and Ray (Allen) and all those guys saying they'd like Rondo to listen more. But they all got along on the court and won a championship."

The 90s Bulls weren't exactly close, especially during the first threepeat from 1991-93. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper bonded more in the second threepeat. But players like Luc Longley often said he'd go months without Jordan speaking to him off the court.

Bill Russell with the greatest dynasty of all, the 50s and 60s Celtics was famously at odds with some teammates and especially the community. That team won eight consecutive titles and 11 in 13 seasons. Elvin Hayes feuded with many of the Washington Bullets of the 1970s on the way to a championship. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal aimed verbal blasts at one another through the media and won three titles.

It's human nature, really. Who likes everyone else at the job?

Though it certainly makes for a better working environment if you do. And it could elevate a team lacking some of the overall talent. Especially if it's a young team. Or Young's team.

"I think it does help in a locker room where guys like each other," Young said. "Guys want to play with each other. It makes for a better chemistry on the court. For us being a young team the difference is we need that type of chemistry, that type of flow. We need to be able to go out there and be at ease knowing your teammates are playing with you as opposed to playing for themselves."

Boylen, to his credit, has helped engender some of that with a preference toward more freedom for players. He doesn't call as many play sets as many coaches, which perhaps was troublesome earlier in the season. But lately it seems to have produced more confident play and independence.

Bulls timeout

"I would like my guys to take ownership for how we operate on both ends of the floor and recognize those situations," Boylen says. "There's multiple timeouts when they come into the huddle and they have something they think can work out or they have something they want to do. There was an example (in a recent game). They said, 'Do you think this will work? We're going to run that after the grown with that, Zach (LaVine) is more verbal this year. Tomas (Satoransly) mentioned to me was that him and Zach have a good banter during the game, a good, 'Hey what do you see? I got this, I got that.' That's what you hope to have and it takes time, it takes that familiarity, it takes reps.

"The Spurs had the lunch crew, very tight," Boylen said about his time on the staff of the champion Spurs. "When I was in Indiana we had a group that shot after and played one-on-one for hours. We had to kick them out. They would do the shooting game they called the angry birds and then they would play one-on-one. Paul George would play one-on-one for an hour. Lance Stephenson, (Leandro) Barbosa, whoever wanted to play."

Not so much strife? Happy team, happy life?

Which also raises the question of just what is the meaning of team. And if corn oil is made from corn and vegetable oil from vegetables, what about baby oil? Do the police have to read rights if they arrest a mime? Just how loud is a big bang? Life and basketball are shot full of questions that are not a slam dunk.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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