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Saturday, December 4, 2010
The "Circus Trip" diary

By Nick Friedell

The Bulls struggled mightily in Boston on Friday. Maybe it's just because they were still reveling in the fact they did so well on the annual "Circus Trip". Let's take one more look back at some of the behind the scene stories of the annual sojourn out West.

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, the Berto Center, Deerfield, Ill., 2:07 p.m. CT

It's just about an hour and a half before the Bulls are scheduled to take off on their seven-game trip, and Derrick Rose is already nervous. The trip hasn't even started yet, and he's already late.

"I might get fined today," the 22-year-old All-Star says before he begins his obligatory media session.

He swears he hasn't even packed yet, but he has already loaded up two seasons worth of shows on his new MacBook Air computer.

"I just downloaded 'Dexter,' the first season," he says. "People was telling me about 'Dexter' and I just got 'The Walking Dead.' The new series that came on AMC. I just downloaded that first season so I can’t wait to get to it, so it should be fun."

Why did he pick those kinds of shows?

"I get it from my mom," he says. "She likes those."

A few moments later, he races off. He knows he can't get through two weeks by just watching TV shows and eating candy.

Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010, the Toyota Center, Houston, 9:42 a.m. CT

What are the essentials when you go on a two-week trip like this, Joakim Noah?

"What’s very underrated is sometimes you can wear a pair of jeans twice," the 25-year-old center says to me. "That’s pretty important. You can pack for two weeks you don’t need a new pair of jeans for every single day. Bring two, three pairs; Once in a while you take them to the cleaners, you wash them. You don’t need to bring eight pairs of jeans for two weeks, you know what I mean?

"You think there will be guys who wear the same pair the whole trip?" I ask.

"This is the NBA," he tells me. "I don’t think the same pair." And then proving his point, he adds proudly.

"I brought two."

By the way, for those of you keeping track at home -- On the D. Rose scale of 1-5 stars, 'Dexter' has come through for Mr. Rose.

"It’s like a four," Rose says. "I’m liking 'Dexter' right now."

Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010, the Toyota Center, Houston, 11:14 a.m. CT

Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah and the Bulls reunited with former teammate Brad Miller in Houston.
After waiting to speak to Brad Miller for 30 minutes, I've finally had enough. I walk back down the hall outside of the Rockets practice facility and head towards the elevator which goes to the media center. When a co-worker and I get off the elevator and walk down the dimly lit hallway we are greeted by a familiar figure: It's Miller ... wearing yet another Chicago Cubs hat.

He is busy shooting the breeze with some of his former teammates. Taj Gibson is sitting on the side of the wall just taking everything in. James Johnson comes out to pay his respects; Miller gives him a hard time about his afro. The veteran big man is in his comfort zone -- he still has a nickname for all his old buddies.

"It's fun," he says of facing his old team. "Tajy Woo-Woo. [Taj Gibson]. Jo-kim Duck [Joakim Noah], J.J. [James Johnson], D. Rose, Sweet Lu [Luol Deng, so it will be fun."

While Miller doesn't come right out and say it, it's clear that he misses being a member of the Bulls.

"People always say Houston's always blessed with injuries at some point and I had mine," he says. "They said 'Welcome to the team,' when I turned my ankle. It just seems like the curse of this team, but guys just keep stepping up."

He's just hoping his old buddy Joakim Noah doesn't step up too large on this night.

He continues to joke with his former mates as he walks them up the ramp and back to his car underneath the Toyota Center. He's giving them a ride back to their hotel.

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010, San Antonio, Texas, 7:07 p.m. CT



Tom Thibodeau is a little late for his regular pregame media session, so the pack of writers takes a right into the Bulls locker room and bumps into a familiar face: Rose.

He's sitting on a Gatorade cooler calmly waiting for the game to begin. After scoring 33 points the night before, including 17 in the final quarter, he is asked how he was able to get so hot.

"Right before the game I was shooting and I was telling [assistant coach] Ron Adams, I was like, I never have a good shooting game in this arena," Rose said. "And I was missing every shot, almost every shot, I'm like, "Oh, this is going to be a long night." But during the game I guess they were just giving me shots and I was taking them."

So what's it like to be in that kind of zone.

"It feels good," he said. "Where almost every shot you throw up, goes in. The team gets into it. I had my brother and friend on the sidelines. It was a good feeling."

A few moments later, the topic of the length of the trip comes up and Rose is momentarily stumped.

"Actually, I don't even know how many games we play on this trip. Y'all know?"

"Seven," I say.

"That's a lot of games," Rose says.

Did he pack enough clothes?

"I packed. I knew how many days we were going to be gone. Seven is a lot of games, but we're just trying to take it one game at a time."

"You're buying us Thanksgiving dinner aren't you?" another writer jokes.

"Another year where I'm gone. It's going to be hard but I think I should be able to find something to eat in Denver."

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010, San Antonio, 11:22 p.m. CT

James Johnson has found something to eat. He wolfs down a Whataburger as the media enters a dejected locker room after the Bulls fall apart in the third quarter against the Spurs.

"The third quarter, we came out, we couldn't hit any shots," Rose laments. "Shots that we usually take we wasn't hitting. With a team like that, you can't do that."

The sky is not totally falling for Rose and the Bulls. There are more games to play, but Noah knows there are things the team must improve upon.

Bulls
The Bulls had a tough time solving the San Antonio Spurs in 103-94 loss.
"You got to give them credit," he says. "They played a great second half. There's a lot of things that I got to fix. I'm not happy with the way I played and just be ready to go the next game."

Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, American Airlines Arena, Dallas, 12:37 a.m. CT

Clearly, the Bulls learned from their mistakes. After once again falling into a huge hole early, the Bulls come all the way back to clip the Mavericks. Joakim Noah wants to celebrate. He walks into the shower and starts belting out Usher's latest hit, OMG. "OH, OH, OH, OH, OH MY GOD" you can hear bouncing off the walls.

On the other side of the room, Derrick Rose is in misery. Yes, his team won and he's happy, but he can't believe the cut he has on his nose courtesy of Dirk Nowitzki.

"My swag is a little down right now as you can see," he said in the happy locker room. "I don't like getting my face touched. I'm just mad right now."

When a reporter jokes that Rose's face is perfect no more, the 22 year-old pitchman responds quickly.

"I wouldn't say that," he said. "I'm easy on the eye."

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose's nose was a casualty of the Bulls' win in Dallas.
Everything feels a little better when your team is 2-1 during the Texas road swing -- even a bloody nose.

Nov. 21, 2010, the Staples Center, Los Angeles, 10:38 p.m. PT

Kobe Bryant is cruising through his regular postgame press conference with ease.

It's about an hour after the Lakers latest win, and the superstar is carving through answers like he did to the Warriors earlier in the night. Questions come his way, and he answers them with the countenance of a man who has been through this drill thousands of times. Short answers, brief soundbites; you know he just wants to get through the next few minutes and get on with his night. The American Music Awards have recently concluded just down the street at the Nokia Theatre and Bryant, dressed in a purple cardigan, probably has more important places to be than standing in front of his locker at the Staples Center answering questions about another lopsided win. The media horde surrounds his locker and hangs on every word, but Bryant doesn't seem to care.

All of a sudden, he hears a name from his past and everything changes for a moment.

When the reigning NBA Finals MVP, recalls the impact that Tom Thibodeau had on his development early in his career, Bryant's answers change for an instant. He actually thinks about what he wants to say and actually seems genuinely happy to be answering a question he must not hear every day.

"He was crucial," Bryant says. "He was with me when I was 16 years old. 16 or 17 years old. Just doing drills and just working on ball-handling and just teaching me the game. He was there from Day 1."

Obviously, Thibodeau knows what's coming when his Bulls face off against the Lakers in two days.

"His greatness is, you can play great defense, you just try to make him work, and he still has the ability to score big," the veteran coach says. "He's gotten to the point now where he can beat you a lot of different ways."

Thibodeau is just hoping he doesn't use all of them on Tuesday.

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010, Los Angeles, the Staples Center 6:02 p.m. PT

Vinny Del Negro sees a couple old faces from his past and literally stops in his tracks.

The new coach of the Los Angeles Clippers is happy to see a couple of familiar faces from Chicago before heading into a pregame press conference in which one of the first questions is: "Why are you guys so crummy?"

He's in a surprisingly positive mood as he walks out of the room 15 minutes later. He wants to know how Rose, Noah and Gibson are doing. And he wants people to understand that he has moved on from his tumultuous exit in Chicago.

"Obviously, the tradition and the history in LA compared to what Chicago's history is much different," he said. "The cities are much different, but I enjoy it, I really do. Is it difficult? Of course. Is it frustrating? Of course. But that's what gets me going. For whatever reason, I just enjoy the challenge of it all. Some guys do and some guys don't and I love basketball, it's been great to me. And I love the opportunity, I embrace the challenge and we'll see how it all works out."

He works out pretty well for him on this night. His Clippers pull off a surprising win over the Hornets.

Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, Los Angeles, the Staples Center, 10:34 p.m. PT

Shannon Brown just kind of smiles when the question is asked.

Did you have any contact with the Bulls over the summer when you were a free agent?

"I don't remember," he says, while standing in front of his locker stall.

He has just torched the Bulls for 21 points, and he is soaking in the moment. It sounds as if he would have liked to have played for the Bulls, but he isn't tipping his cards.

A few moments later, Thibodeau and the Bulls get their biggest compliment of the night. Yes, they lost, but Kobe Bryant sees a difference in the team from Chicago.

"They look really good," he says. "I think they play with a lot of energy. And they executed well. They had a lot of spacing and they kept coming."

Given what happens the next night, maybe Bryant has a future as a fortune teller.

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010, Phoenix, U.S. Airways Center, 10:49 p.m. MT

Noah is exhausted, but he's happy. His team just came back from a 23-point deficit to win in double overtime, and he's having a hard time describing what he's feeling at the moment.

"I'm pretty sore," Noah admitted. "Physically, I'm pretty low right now. But mentally [I'm] 150 percent."

Why shouldn't he be? His team just pulled off its most impressive win of the year.

"I think it's just character," Deng says. He's just played 54 minutes, but he looks like he could play a few more if needed. "We have characters that really care about the game and trying to win."

Bulls
The Bulls got off to a slow start in Phoenix but left with a win.
Noah agrees.

"It was a huge win," he says. "It feels good to win right now. The thing that sucks about the league is we can't celebrate it for a week. That would have been great, to be able to celebrate a win like this for a week."

"Still a great Thanksgiving day present, though?" another reporter says.

"It's not a week," Noah responds. "But we'll eat some turkey tomorrow."

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, Denver, the Pepsi Center, 9:40 p.m. MT

Kyle Korver sits in front of his locker with his feet resting in a vat of ice. Like some of the other players in the Bulls locker room, he is just shaking his head.

"We should have won that game," he mutters. "And we didn't even play that well. C.J. played well, but ..."

The C.J. he would be referring to is C.J. Watson, the man who stepped in for Rose because the Bulls' star could barely move his neck all day and spent the entire game getting a massage in the locker room. John Lucas III, who had already worked out for several hours earlier in the day, and was sitting at a Wing Stop restaurant in Houston when the Bulls called him at 12:30 that afternoon, just clanked two free throws that may have helped ice the game. Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony proceed to drain the game winner at the buzzer a few moments later and the team is left to wonder what might have been.

Noah gives some words of encouragement to Lucas before he leaves the locker room. Watson, who exploded for 33 points tries to put things in perspective.

"Coach put him in, and coach has faith in him," Watson explained. "So I know coach [trusts] him in that situation. I think [Lucas] just didn't make them, and that's how the ball falls sometimes."

The Bulls shuffle out into the Denver cold to catch their flight. Luckily for them, there is only one game left on the trip.

Saturday Nov. 27, 2010, Sacramento, Calif., 6:43 p.m. PT

Brian Scalabrine has plenty of energy left. He throws down a tomahawk dunk in the pregame layup line, which leaves his teammates in awe.

"What the [heck]?" Veteran forward Kurt Thomas says.

The Bulls just got an added jolt considering Rose says he is going to try to play, despite the fact that he is still having problems moving his neck from side to side.

"I'm just trying to stay positive right now," Rose says in the visitor's locker room. "Just thinking that I'm going to play the whole game. C.J. played great [Friday] so if I can't [play], I know that he'll back me up pretty good."

Rose gets a jolt from the horde of Bulls fans who stand behind the team's bench during warm-ups. He's ready to finish what he started.

Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, 10:01 p.m. PT

After struggling for years on the annual "Circus Trip," Luol Deng can't hide his excitement at the fact that his team has just completed a 4-3 trip, the first winning trip since 1997.

"It's a good feeling," Deng says in the cramped locker room. "Our mentality this year is one game at a time. A tough one last night, I thought we were a little tired in the first half, but we keep fighting back."

It's evident something has changed in Deng through the early part of the season. He seems much happier on the floor and appears to enjoy playing with his teammates more than ever.

"I think a lot of people in the NBA just overlook [how a] team [is] getting along together off the court," he says. "I think a lot of times you try to put a bunch of individuals together because of what they're capable of doing on the court, but I just think our chemistry on and off the court has just been unbelievable and this trip was great for that."

As he walks toward the exit, I ask him one final question.

Just how much Tom Thibodeau switched the culture of this team over the first month of the season?

Deng smiles and chuckles a little bit.

"You can see it," he says. "He's been around for a long time, so he knows what he's doing."

With that he heads out the door and onto one more bus. The Bulls have to fly home one more time. Given what the Bulls have accomplished over the past two weeks, Deng may actually enjoy the long flight back for a change.