CHICAGO -- Three games into the season, it appears there are two distinct groups forming within the vast Chicago Bulls fan base. Either you believe that the Bulls are just shaking off some rust after having not played together in over a year and a half with Derrick Rose -- or you believe that this team, as constructed, just isn't as good as it was supposed to be given how poorly they've performed over the first week of the season.
Tom Thibodeau clearly falls into the first category.
The veteran coach has been frustrated throughout the preseason that his team, specifically his starters, did not get much of a chance to play together. Joakim Noah (groin) missed almost all of training camp while Jimmy Butler (sore knee) Kirk Hinrich (concussion) and even Rose (sore knee) missed time because of various injuries.
"I think you have to play the game with an edge," said after Saturday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in which the Bulls blew a 20-point lead. "The way you get your edge is you get into the gym, you work, you study, you prepare, that's how you get your edge."
The Bulls played the second half of Saturday's game with no edge. They were complacent -- and everyone in that locker room knew it.
"We need to practice together," Thibodeau said. "Together. That's the issue right now. You can't miss an entire training camp, you can't miss 10 days of training camp, you can't do that. You can't. The games are coming, they're coming fast. We got to change quickly, we've got to get right."
Thibodeau's belief that the Bulls need to practice more is well-intentioned, and maybe that is the biggest problem. But as a group they just fell asleep against the Sixers. Thibodeau has made it a point not to criticize individual players throughout his tenure, but it is evident in his commentary how frustrated he is that Noah, Butler and Hinrich were not on the floor during much of October. He believes their injuries have stunted the start to his team's season in some ways.
On the bright side, it's early and there is plenty of time to turn things around. There was no sense of doom in the locker room on Saturday, just a surprised sense that they let the game slip away. As somebody who has seen this team prepare over the course of the last few months, I still believe the Bulls will be very successful this season. I also believe Rose will find his old form soon once he finds a rhythm again. This is the worst three-game stretch I can remember him having over the course of the past four years, and he admitted Saturday night that he is rushing things right now.
The bigger issue for the Bulls remains the same as it has been for the past three seasons. When Rose doesn't have it going or is being double- or triple-teamed, where else will the Bulls go to find offense late in games? It continues to be an ongoing theme for this organization and one they must figure out to take the next step of development as a group.
What's next: The Bulls will practice Monday at the Berto Center. It should be a rough one given how frustrated Thibodeau sounded after Saturday's loss and also because the Bulls play again until Wednesday.
The last word: Noah on Rose: "He'll be fine. I'm not worried about Derrick -- his competitive nature and all that. We're in this together. When he struggles we all struggle. The same goes for all of us. When he struggles we all struggle. When I struggle we all struggle ... we're not clicking but we will. I'm not worried about it. I'm confident in this team."