Position: SF | Age: 27 | 2011-12 salary: $12,341,275
Season recap: Deng earned the first All-Star berth of his career by playing solid on both ends of the floor. He thrived playing alongside Derrick Rose and continued to play well on the defensive end. Deng tore a ligament in his left wrist on Jan. 21 against the Charlotte Bobcats and ended up missing seven games while trying to get the pain down so he could continue to play. He decided to forgo surgery so he could help the Bulls contend for a title and play for Team Great Britain in this summer's Olympics. Deng played through pain the rest of the season logging big minutes. He struggled in the playoffs until Games 5 and 6 when he concluded that he had to take on a bigger role offensively while the Bulls played without Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (ankle).
Season highlight: Aside from the All-Star Game, Deng's grittiest and most important performance probably came in Game 6 against the 76ers. He had 19 points, 17 rebounds, played close to 43 minutes and was about two seconds short of leading the Bulls to a victory without Rose and Noah.
Season lowlight: Obviously, the injury was the lowest point of Deng's season, but in terms of performance, Games 2-4 will be tough for him to forget over the summer. He went just 10-for-30 from the field in those three games and scored just 24 points. As usual, Deng had to guard the opposing team's top offensive player, and he certainly slowed down Andre Iguodala at times, but with the Bulls looking for an offensive spark, Deng was unable to provide one during that stretch.
Notes: It was only a few years ago that Chicago fans questioned Deng's toughness. Now, after playing almost an entire season with a torn ligament in his wrist, Deng has changed that perception. He is the guy who plays 40 minutes a night, and he is the one who has gotten even better under Thibodeau. Deng has earned a lot of respect from both fans and teammates for the way he plays. Now it will be interesting to see if fans get frustrated with his decision to put off surgery until mid-August.
Quotes: "I’ve got to see how my wrist feels, right now, going into the Olympics, and then right after the Olympics. I’ll make the decision, whether if my wrist is good enough i don’t need the surgery, or if I’ll need it. I haven’t really ruled out not getting the surgery or getting it. i just haven’t made that decision. I just know i’ve got the Olympics ahead of me, since i was a kid growing up, it's something I always wanted an opportunity to be part of. the fact that it’s in my hometown that I grew up in a country that gave me opportunity to even be here, I’m looking forward to it." – Deng after the season-ending loss in Game 6
What's next?: Deng is at the heart of one of the most interesting subplots of the NBA summer. He has said he plans to play in the Olympics so the question becomes: Will he decide to have surgery after the Olympics to fix his wrist? If he does, that means he will likely be out for the first two months of next season while he recovers. Although the Bulls can't be happy about that, they cannot stop him from playing in the Olympics because of a rule in the CBA. Deng and the Bulls have held out hope that he might not need surgery after the Olympics, but that seems like a long shot given how often the wrist seemed to bother him throughout the season.