Bulls aspire to be more than a play-hard team

Denver coach George Karl paid the Bulls a compliment after Friday's game.

Or did he? Here's the quote, via

“This team, Chicago, the thing right now, I think they're probably the hardest playing team in the league. Play hard makes good things happen. Play hard can pick your team up when you have your best player not playing and almost win a game. I'm not sure they weren't the best team on the court tonight. We were more fortunate probably than good.”

Karl spoke after the Bulls put themselves in position to win at Denver while top scorer Derrick Rose sat with a stiff neck, only to lose 98-97 on a last-second jumper by Carmelo Anthony.

So Karl was giving the Bulls credit for playing hard. In reality, though, the Bulls don't want to be known as a “play hard” team.

They've been there and done that.

Play-hard teams can be fun to watch, but they don't last long in the playoffs, because when talented teams bring the effort, play-hard teams lose. That's why the Bulls are 1-5 in the playoff series during the last six years.

A common trait among the best NBA teams is they can score easily, which allows them to save energy for the defensive end. Maybe that's through letting a superstar play 1-on-1 for a few trips, or getting the ball inside for some easy scores, or setting a couple of picks and tossing in an open 3-pointer.

Give Bulls general manager Gar Forman some credit for not being satisfied with the Bulls being a play-hard team. That's what letting go of Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich to build cap room was all about.

A great effort, which the Bulls delivered while outscoring Sacramento 39-14 in the final 15 minutes of Saturday's win, can bring regular-season success.

When Carlos Boozer gets on the floor, the Bulls are hoping to play more like the Lakers, Celtics or Magic, where they don't need the frantic effort to beat an inferior team. That's when they'll be a true contender in the Eastern Conference.

• Sticking with the quote theme, here's one from Joakim Noah after the win over the Kings, also from

“We definitely have the identity of our coach. I think he is probably the hungriest guy I've ever been around in terms of coaching. Ever since the summer, the guy is in the gym all day. ... He is hungry, he wants to win so bad.”

This might be the most promising development so far this season. Not only have the Bulls gone 9-6 without Boozer against the league's toughest schedule, but first-year coach Tom Thibodeau appears to be as good as advertised and there's no question the players believe in him.

How would the world be different if the Bulls hired Thibodeau in 2008? They also got lucky this summer when he decided to wait on the Bulls instead of accepting an offer from New Orleans.

• Quote No. 3, from Carlos Boozer: “I do have a target date, but I'm going to keep that to myself.”

Boozer is planning to practice Monday when the Bulls return to the Berto Center and he should be in good enough shape to play in a game. So when will he make his Bulls' debut?

It seems as though Boozer has helped the Bulls' confidence, even without playing. He's been a constant presence in the locker room and cheers like a madman from the bench.

The schedule resumes with Orlando at home on Wednesday and another trip to Boston on Friday. If Boozer gets on the floor against the two biggest rivals in the East, he'll prove to his teammates he means business this season.

• Who can blame Phil Jackson for tweaking the Miami Heat in a radio interview when any little comment gets his rivals so riled up?

Jackson was on WMVP's “Waddle & Silvy Show” when he said about Miami, “Eventually if things don't straighten out soon, it could be the Van Gundy thing all over again.”

He was referring to Stan Van Gundy resigning as Heat coach 21 games into the 2005-06 season, allowing Pat Riley to coach the team to a championship.

LeBron James bumped shoulders with current Miami coach Eric Spoelstra during Saturday's loss at Dallas, adding to speculation a coaching change is inevitable.

During the summer, though, there was talk from a number of league sources that one condition of the stars aligning in Miami was Riley promising not to return as coach. Dwyane Wade may not be anxious for a replay of the “Van Gundy thing” and Jackson probably knew that when he said it.