CHICAGO | There was a time earlier in Luol Deng's NBA career when fans and media questioned his toughness as a member of the Bulls.
We questioned the oft-injured forward's dependability.
In his 2004-05 rookie season, Deng missed 10 games with a right sprained ankle, spent the final 10 games on the Injured List with a ligament tear in his right wrist, and then missed the playoffs.
In 2007-08, Deng was placed on the Inactive List for 19 games — three for lower back pain, 16 for left Achilles tendonitis.
In 2008-09, Deng missed three games with a left hamstring strain, eight with a left ankle sprain, and the final 22 regular-season games and playoffs with a right tibia stress fracture.
In 2009-10, Deng missed one game with a swollen left knee and 11 due to a left calf strain.
Questions began to fly. Was he being overly cautious? Was he trying to protect a promising career? Was he a wimp, a phoney? Or, was the guy just plain unlucky?
The public no longer cares. Luol Deng is back, and with a vengeance.
He is the Bulls' best defender, probably their No. 1 go-to player until Derrick Rose returns from major knee surgery, and possibly their best-conditioned since playing in all 82 games two years ago.
Did we add that he is a calming influence and relentless? Please do.
"We know how hard we work. We got a lot of new guys so we've got to get on the same page," Deng said, starting with tonight's preseason opener against Memphis at the United Center.
"We know how to win games. The past two years, we've proven that."
You can't argue against a 112-36 record in that span, much of the credit going to a healthy Rose.
But for much of 2012-13, this will be Luol Deng's team, a fact he refuses to dwell on.
"We know we're gonna need each other to get better and we look forward to gettin' to work," he said.
And for that reason, this will be the most important training camp since the former Duke star signed on.
With seven new faces, roles must be assigned and the playbook burned into everyone's subconscious before name tags can be removed.
That will be your official Bulls team.
Last season, Deng's left wrist got as much publicity as some of the team's starters. Is surgery needed? If so, when? If not, then how about over the summer? Olympics? You're kidding. He wants to play?
The soap opera ran uninterrupted.
"The wrist is the wrist. It is what it is," Deng said. "I expect to be asked about it all year, but I just gotta go out and play as hard as I can, do what I can, whether it's one arm or two arms or no arms.
"I'm gonna be the best I can be. That's the goal."
Are we getting that noble speech because Rose is on the shelf? I don't know. Deng claims the wrist, which had torn ligaments last season, "felt great" at the Olympics and has "felt great" at practice.
There are no plans for surgery. Period. End of sentence.
"No one individual is gonna do what Derrick can do. As a group, we all have to commit to the challenges we'll face," Deng said.
He assures fans the Bulls will have a chip on their shoulder. It's their style, regardless of who's on the floor.
For now, that and good health must be enough.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org