As we get set for the upcoming Bulls season, let's take a closer look at each player on the projected roster. It’s a roster which has been the subject of more debate and excitement than any other in recent memory.
Player: Luol Deng
2010-11 Salary: $11,355,850; contract runs through 2013-14
Role for Bulls in 2010-11: Deng can become the silent assassin on Tom Thibodeau's team this season. The Duke product has the ability to go off for 25-30 points in any game, averaging 17.6 last season. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer manning the post, and Derrick Rose creating space off the dribble, Deng should be able to get open looks throughout the season. There's no doubt Thibodeau will try to get him to drive to the hoop more and create, but if he can consistently hit 15-18 foot jump shots and play solid defense, everyone on the coaching staff will be happy.
Deng is only 25 years old and has enough talent to continue to blossom. Expect the new coaching staff to push him even harder on the defensive end and try to produce more of a two-way player. When motivated, the Duke alum plays solid defense and can frustrate a defender on the offensive end because of his length and jump shot. But too often last season, Deng would play extremely well in spurts and then disappear for the rest of the contest. He'd hit several jumpers in a row or play great defense for a few stretches, but then you wouldn't notice him after that. Thibodeau has praised him several times over the last few months since he was hired, and he expects big things out of Deng this season.
As always, the biggest key for the forward is staying healthy. He missed 12 games last season due to injury and has missed 64 games over the last three combined. If he can stay on the floor and produce throughout an entire season he will have a big year alongside all the new faces in the Bulls lineup.
What happened this summer?: Deng started playing for Team Great Britain in preparation for the 2012 London Games, and by all accounts looked good doing so. His name surfaced constantly during the free-agent process as the Bulls tried to dump his hefty contract to free up more space for the marquee free-agent class. Deng's name has surfaced once again in the last week because of the rumors swirling about Carmelo Anthony's desire to play for the Bulls. Aside from injuries, Deng's biggest problem is that he signed a contract befitting a young superstar, but to this point in his career he hasn't lived up to the promise. He is a very good player, but he is not the type of player anyone wants to acquire right now, considering he has four years and almost $52 million left on his deal.
Best-Case Scenario: Deng plays in all 82 games. He hasn't done that since the 2006-2007 season. He averages 20 points a game and becomes an even better defender under Thibodeau. Deng works on driving the ball to the hoop more and creating contact instead of usually shying away from it. He also extends his range just a couple more feet to start taking more three-pointers, thus freeing up more space for Rose. After taking just 49 three pointers over the past three years, Deng actually attempted 83 a season ago and connected at a 39 percent clip.
Worst-Case Scenario: He gets hurt and Chicago fans continue to question his toughness. He doesn't look for his shot as much and refuses to take it strong to the hoop. His tendency to take jumpers from just inside the arc limits the amount of room Rose and Co. have to roam. The good thing for the Bulls is that they have a lot more depth in Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver to plug in for Deng if he goes down again. The bad news is that Deng's contract will only make another injury harder to swallow for a fan base that is starting to lose patience.
Bottom Line: Keep playing. If Deng is staying out of the trainer's room, and can stay healthy all year, it would go a long way toward dispelling the "soft" tag he has developed in Chicago over the last few seasons.