In an impressive display of leadership, Luol Deng, the longest-tenured Bulls player and team captain, defended the much-criticized bench after Tuesday's practice.

"I donít know if you guys expected exactly the same bench," Deng said. "That 'Bench Mob' was great. We won a lot of games because of them. But theyíre gone. Some of them are struggling with their teams. Some are doing well.

"This is a new team. Not every team is going to be about a Bench Mob. Iíve been here nine years and every year has a different story. I think for this team there are going to be ups and downs until we get our chemistry right and start playing the way we want to play."

Deng spoke in the wake of the Bulls' collapse Monday in which they lost to the Bucks after leading by 27 points in the third quarter. Coach Tom Thibodeau barely used his bench, particularly in the second half when three reserves played a total of 10 minutes, 23 seconds.

Deng logged an astounding 47:18 against the Bucks.

"We have to find our identity but itís a totally different year," Deng said. "Itís not fair to the guys that are here, the new guys, to be compared to the guys from the last two years. Theyíre still getting used to it. Even the Bench Mob, the first year we had them, it took a while to get going. When we got going, it clicked.

"The year after that, last year, what helped us a lot was we had a lot of guys returning so we knew how we play and how to play with each other. Weíre still learning how to play with each other."

The Bulls return to action Wednesday against Dallas.,553113.story

That's what I've been saying too, Lu.