Opening Tip: How do Bulls create culture?

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau chewed on an interesting question before Monday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the type of question that explores the core of a team and an organization.

Does he look for players who bring energy and effort every single night or do they develop that kind of mindset once they slide a Bulls jersey on over their heads?

[+] EnlargeNoah
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Noah's teammates have seen him grow into a leader, even if he's brushed off that kind of talk.
"Both," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, ... the mental part of the game is important. It's funny, I was in Boston for a good chunk of [Larry] Bird's career. He had it, he had it and the people that are here [know Michael] Jordan had it. And when you talk to those guys you can understand why. Their thing was prepare yourself to play big minutes and never show your opponent any signs of physical or mental weakness. And I think that goes a long way. I think when your leaders do that, it goes down through your team."

To Thibodeau's point, that's why Joakim Noah's progression on and off the floor has been so imperative this season. While Noah has brushed off talk that he has changed in any way as a leader, his teammates and coaches see otherwise. They see someone who has grown as a player and a leader in what was viewed by many as a lost season when Derrick Rose went down again with a knee injury and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland.

"So veteran leadership's important, having the mindset," Thibodeau continued. "In talking to [John Paxson], I love hearing the stories about Jordan and the things he did when he was here. It gives you a much greater understanding of how driven Jordan was -- because he didn't only drive himself, he drove the rest of the team. And that's what's necessary to win a championship.

"I was fortunate in Boston to be part of a group like that. We had [Kevin] Garnett, who was relentless and [Paul] Pierce and [Ray] Allen were the same, and you need that. So, hopefully, we have that. We try to bring it every night, I think that's important. You build that habit. You can't pick and choose when you're going to bring it. You got to bring it every day. And I think that's important."

Thibodeau believes some organizations worry too much about the minutes players can rack up during the year. He even mentioned Phil Jackson's name in defense of his own personal beliefs on how to pace a team.

"I think Phil is one of the all-time greats, maybe the greatest," Thibodeau said. "And I know from coaching against him his best players were always on the floor, and they were conditioned to be on the floor. And I've talked to Jordan about it and the way he conditioned himself both mentally and physically. When you go back through history and you look at championship teams, you see how the minutes were dispersed."

Thibodeau has been criticized in the past for riding players too hard in the regular season, but he has never bought into that notion. He believes players can condition themselves both mentally and physically to play heavy minutes during the year.

"I want to see the science," he said. "If there's some science that says if you play a guy 28 minutes a game and we can guarantee he'll never get hurt then you got something. But until then, I think how you pace your team, you get a feel for that over time."

Durant not surprised by Noah's success: While the rest of the basketball world seems to be taking notice of Noah's rise to prominence, Thunder star Kevin Durant doesn't understand why so many people are just now realizing how good Noah has been.

"He always could pass the basketball," Durant said. "There's nothing new that he's doing. He's playing his regular game, I think people are just starting to recognize what he's done. He's been doing it for the last three or four years. For some reason, you guys think it's a surprise, but he's been playing that way ever since he got into the league. Playing with high energy on both ends of the floor, passing the basketball well, that's just how he plays. Since the first time I watched him play -- so [it's] nothing new."

Durant also didn't seem surprised by the fact that his former college teammate at the University of Texas, D.J. Augustin, has been playing so well of late since signing with the Bulls in December.

"I'm so happy for him, man," Durant said. "We spent so much time together when I was at Texas. He lived next door to me. We had that connection since the first day we stepped on campus, and I was there when he got drafted. ... I think this was a perfect home for him. I think he turned their season around when he came in when those guys were hurt and just played tremendous basketball right now."

Durant knows that Augustin has taken to Thibodeau's system quickly.

"He's one of those point guards that's pass-first," Durant said. "But also can score. But he plays terrific defense. ... He's one of those system guys. No matter what he's in, he's going to come in what the coach needs him to do. And that's what he's done here, and he's found himself a nice home."

What's next: The Bulls take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

The last word: Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy, on the Bulls' mindset as they get set to face a Philadelphia 76ers team that has lost a franchise-record 21 games in a row:

"Hopefully, the last time we were there earlier in the season we recognize that we can be beat by anybody. So if that isn't motivation enough -- knowing that wounded animals are oftentimes the most dangerous animal. So I don't expect us having any issue getting up for that game."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5