CHICAGO -- Now that Derrick Rose has once again been voted into the All-Star Game by the fans as a starter, it's time for the players and coaches to put one more Chicago Bulls player into the game when the reserves are announced next week.
The veteran forward is deserving of a spot on the team -- no matter when he returns to the floor after tearing a ligament in his wrist on Jan. 21 against the Charlotte Bobcats. Aside from Rose, Deng has been the Bulls' most important player. You could also make the argument that Deng has been the team's most consistent player on both ends of the floor.
"Lu is definitely going to make the All-Star team this year," Rose said after a win last month in Boston. "If he don't, that would be cheating man. It would be cheating for sure."
Rose and his teammates understand just how much Deng has meant to them on a nightly basis. Not only is he averaging 16 points, almost eight rebounds and three assists a game, he's also drawing the other team's best player defensively almost every night. He is the guy Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau depends on to slow down an opponent's offense every night. That's a heavy burden to carry, especially when you're averaging over 38 minutes a night. Yet Deng remains somewhat unsung outside of Chicago.
"I'm not really worried about that," Deng has said of the lack of attention. "That's the honest truth. I'm not really worried about whether people talk about me or not. I'm really happy I'm playing with a bunch of guys that love playing together. And it just makes me a better player. I'm just excited for every night."
As much as he tries to downplay what an All-Star selection would mean, don't believe it. It would mean a lot to Deng after spending nearly eight years in Chicago. He has been through the highs of going to Eastern Conference championship last season and the lows of having the fan base question his toughness after several injuries in the past couple of years.
Deng would have figured to be a shoo-in for the All-Star nod had it not been for the torn ligament, but whether he returns soon (it could be as early as Saturday in Milwaukee) or he has to get surgery and miss the rest of the year, Deng has earned the right to be recognized as one of the best this season amongst his peers.
"And I offer up Deng with a wince, but only because he might not be able to accept his nomination thanks to the wrist injury that's held him out of Chicago's past seven games. Toronto's Andrea Bargnani (plagued by his own injury woes) was a legit candidate here for the first time, but Deng -- playing stifling perimeter D and quietly helping Derrick Rose keep the Bulls' offense moving better than ever -- was playing certifiable All-Star ball before he got hurt. I could see the East coaches voting him in and letting David Stern figure out who from the snubees should replace him.
"I could also see Deng back on the floor as soon as this weekend to clinch his selection."
Either way, Deng deserves it. He is the one player, aside from Rose, that the Bulls could least afford to lose. Since Deng went down, the Bulls are just 4-3 without him. Thibodeau doesn't know where to turn sometimes without his favorite player available off the bench. In order to win a championship, Deng has to be on the floor for the Bulls -- and they know it -- whether he gets enough national recognition or not.
"He's not overlooked by his coaches and his teammates," Thibodeau said last month. "We know how important he is to the team. And he does it night in, night out. Even the nights in which he doesn't shoot the ball well he still does so many things that help you win. He's done everything for us."