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Healthy Deng eager for fresh start

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(AP photo)
Bulls forward Luol Deng listens to questions at a news conference Friday during NBA basketball media day in Deerfield.

DEERFIELD – Bulls forward Luol Deng arrived at the team’s practice facility to lift weights almost every morning this summer, and he stuck around to hit the practice courts nearly every afternoon.

So imagine Bulls general manager Gar Forman’s surprise when he stumbled upon Deng eating by himself in the kitchen of the Berto Center during a mid-summer evening.

“I said, ‘Luol, what are you doing here?’ ” Forman said Friday. “He had put himself on a plan where, rather than go home, he was bringing his dinner to the Berto Center, heating it up in our kitchen, and then he’d get another workout in the evening.”

Deng, 24, is eager for a fresh start after two injury-ridden seasons with the Bulls.

He missed the final 22 games last season because of a stress fracture in his right tibia, and he was forced to watch from the sidelines during the playoffs as the Bulls lost to the Boston Celtics in a thrilling seven-game series.

“I spent most of the summer thinking about it,” Deng said. “Not the way you want to spend your summer.”

Plenty of questions will surround the Bulls as they start training camp today in preparation for their season opener Oct. 29 against the San Antonio Spurs.

How will point guard Derrick Rose and head coach Vinny Del Negro mature in their second seasons with the Bulls?

Will John Salmons and Brad Miller maintain the spark that they delivered after arriving from Sacramento? Will John Salmons and Brad Miller maintain the spark that they delivered after arriving from Sacramento? Will Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas continue to develop into reliable starters?

In many ways, Deng has become the team’s forgotten man. That might sound strange considering that he has averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in five seasons with the Bulls.

“We need Luol to play at a high level,” Del Negro said. “He’s had a very productive summer. His weight, his body fat, all of those things – he’s probably in as good of condition as he’s been in.”

But fans do not pay money to see Deng work out. They pay to see him and his teammates play games, and Deng has missed 52 contests over the past two seasons because of leg, ankle and Achilles’ tendon injuries.

Some fans questioned Deng’s durability or willingness to compete as the injuries piled up.

“I wasn’t worried at all about people questioning my injury,” Deng said. “I knew I was hurt. I know how much I love this game, and I know that I would have played if I was healthy.”

Now that Deng is healthy, he’s ready to create a new reputation for himself. He said last season's frustrations could help him become a better leader this time around.

"I feel like I’m even more mature," Deng said. "I want to come into the year and just bring that to the team, and show that from the start of training camp. Try to be a better leader, whether on the floor or talking to the guys on the side. I really want to do a better job at it."

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