By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) The Bulls are what they are, which means they are what they were.

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That’s mostly a good thing, and it’s unaffected by the dramatic, extended offseason that seemed to cause some to forget what they’ve been watching.

Let’s do this the easy way, by listing the aspects of the Bulls that are significantly different from last season:

One, Richard Hamilton has replaced Keith Bogans, upgrading the team at the position of Old Shooting Guard. He was signed to make them a better playoff team, so ignore most of the early fits and starts.

Two, Luol Deng decided to give his head a Brazilian wax-job.

Three, Carlos Boozer lost twenty pounds, which means he’s lighter while struggling to defend screen/roll or help and recover defensively. He’s lighter while removing the ball from the basket after missing his man on a baseline rotation, and while posting up to create low-percentage fadeaways.

And that’s pretty much it.

Last year was made so much more exciting by the process of learning on the fly who these guys were and what they did, as they made the improbable run to the top of the regular-season standings. Tom Thibodeau was an untested, rookie head coach, Derrick Rose surprised all but himself, and Boozer joined holdovers Deng and Joakim Noah as known commodities.

All the rest was new, for the average local fan. Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J Watson had been toiling in western anonymity, and Omer Asik was only known to hardcore hoops junkies, if that. So it was special to watch the roster solidify and succeed in front of our eyes, after it was cobbled together post-Decision.

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We know how they do it, so don’t be surprised that the formula is the same.

They will win with defense and rebounding, using their second unit to outclass that of opponents. They take a lot of jump-shots, so the offense looks good when they go in and bad when they don’t. Deng didn’t learn how to dribble, Noah didn’t learn how to shoot, Boozer did not become an explosive leaper, and Rose is still the engine of everything.

Rose became the league MVP almost because he had to, and he’ll have to be that again for the Bulls to win a championship. Hamilton will still be a good fit, but the extent to which his presence eases Rose’s burden has been overstated.

Rose remains the only initiator of offense. Others can use cuts and screens to create space and find shots, but this roster still features one player who can take the ball and get something going to challenge a defense, particularly late in games.

Their margin for error is still small, and is maintained by playing as hard as they can, all the time — an “advantage” that will be tested by a compressed schedule that affords little rest. Thibodeau must be wary of how and when Rose expends energy, and to what end. For a team with aspirations, big spring battles loom.

This is a very good team. They start the year knowing so, and the rest of the league does, too. The trophy case is full of well-publicized individual awards.

There will be plenty of success for the Bulls, but those pleasant surprises – the kind that made last season so special – will have to wait.

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of ‚ÄúBoers and Bernstein‚Äù since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

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