There's an enduring image of Luol Deng from April 2009.

It's of the proud and often misunderstood forward slumped in the corner of the visiting locker room at the Boston Garden, his light gray suit matching his mood. He spoke in soft tones before Game 1 of the memorable seven-game first-round playoff series between the Bulls and Celtics.

And with eloquence and emotion, he expressed incredulity at those who questioned him for missing the series with a stress fracture in his right tibia.

"It's unbelievable hearing people question how tough I am and saying I didn't want to play," Deng said that afternoon. "I don't mind someone saying I'm not good enough. But it hurts me deeply when somebody says you're faking an injury. That didn't make sense to me."

Fast forward to now. The All-Star forward is poised to enter his ninth season with the Bulls, the franchise's elder statesman and coach Tom Thibodeau's indispensable part. He will do so with a torn ligament in his left wrist, the same injury he ignored to finish what he felt could be a championship run last season and which he strengthened to represent his adopted homeland at the London Olympics.

With the regular-season opener coming Wednesday, this can't be said strongly enough: Deng isn't getting enough credit for what he's doing.

A player once erroneously labeled as soft is being completely selfless. A player who some mistakenly labeled as brittle is battling. It's a testament not only to Deng's skill but his will. And it still too often feels like his decision is being questioned rather than appreciated.

First came whispers that the organization didn't fully back Deng's Olympic commitment, a stance that was overstated a bit. Then came opinions from many without a stethoscope or medical degree that Deng should have surgery as soon as his Olympic commitment ended.