Players new to Chicago accuse Rose of false modesty. Then they get to know him. "There's no one in the league like this," says Noah. Rose lives with his roommates in a three-bedroom town house north of Chicago. He drives his pickup. He hates to spend. He likes to have money around for friends in need. This season he released his first signature shoe, but not before he gave instructions to Adidas's vice president of global basketball, Lawrence Norman: The shoe had to be versatile enough to wear with pants as well as shorts, so people wouldn't have to buy a second pair. "He takes pride in being normal," says assistant coach Rick Brunson.
At the end of every practice the Bulls line up underneath one basket, and a player shoots free throws. If the player makes both, practice is over. If not, they all run. On Dec. 18 Rose missed a game-tying free throw with 0.8 of a second left against Del Negro's new team, the Clippers. The next day Rose asked to shoot the free throws at the end of practice, even though it was not his turn. He felt in debt. Six weeks later the Bulls faced the Clippers again, and Randy Foye guarded Rose. On pick-and-rolls Foye ran under the screens for Rose, daring him to shoot outside. Rose felt as if it were 2009 again. He sank three three-pointers in the first five minutes.
No one else is running under screens for Rose, but he is seeing plenty of traps and double teams, junk defenses usually deployed on Bryant and James. McClanaghan sends Rose e-mails to help him decipher coverages, and assistant coach Ron Adams makes him shoot with a heavy ball in practice to maintain his rhythm. And Rose has identified yet another way to expand his game. He plans to spend this summer developing post moves, and assuming the regulars are back at St. Monica High, he can use the 6'10" Love as a model.
But summer is a long way off. Even though Noah and Boozer have played only 12 games together, the Bulls still have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They don't yet know what they can be. Noah only returned from rehabbing his hand on Feb. 23, and he will have plenty of time to mesh with Boozer before the playoffs.
Appropriately, one of the Bulls' most reliable players this season has been Deng, the player Rose would not sell out during free agency. Deng is scoring 17.7 points per game and chipping in 6.1 rebounds, clearly benefiting from the confidence shown in him. Rose had enough success with his MVP declaration to throw out one more. "Yeah, I do think we can win it all this year," he says. "How could I think any different?"
If it sounds like he is dreaming, well, that's the most important part of his routine. Rose naps as much as a newborn, three hours a day, and the siestas are sacred. No one wants to wake him early. He can be cranky. He has to feel refreshed at tip-off, even if it means his body clock runs a little late at night. He can always round up a few roommates, grab the key card to the practice facility, hop in the pickup and go shoot.
The game, like the player, is cutthroat.
Now on SI.com
Read more on pro basketball from Lee Jenkins and Ian Thomsen at SI.com/nba