Nothing matters more to college athletes than playing time. In the end, Grayson Allen's tripping penchant didn't force him to miss much. Just one game.
An indefinite suspension that was handed out on Dec. 22 turned definite on Jan. 4. In that two-week span Duke played only twice, the second game coming on Wednesday night. Allen not only played, he started, and was welcomed with a warm, home-crowd ovation. The polarizing junior was on the floor for 27 minutes. He scored 15 points, only committed one foul and served seven assists while playing as the primary point guard.
It was the best possible return for Allen, who looked eager and fresh. I tried not to read too much into his body language, but if I'm being honest, he looked as happy as I've seen him on the floor this season. Duke (13-2) squished Georgia Tech, 110-57.
Was his return too quick? Many people believe it was. Count me in that party. ESPN analyst/famous Duke alum Jay Williams reiterated his position on the air Wednesday night that Allen should have been sitting 3-5 games. He also said the ACC should have made an overriding decision after Krzyzewski determined one game was enough.
There's a lot of story lines buzzing around this Duke team. It's been the most fascinating group in America this season, many of the reasons not related to wins or losses. Allen's return coincided with Mike Krzyzewski's final game on the sidelines before Friday's back surgery takes him away from competition for a month or so.
"It's one of the reasons I wanted to postpone my surgery for a few days, just to move to this point where we could get this moving the right way, where Grayson would be a point; Frank also," Krzyzewski said afterward (quote provided to CBS Sports by local beat writer Stephen Schramm). "The two of them could be together. Get Harry (Giles) in the starting lineup, try to get seven or eight guys in the rotation, that they know seven or eight of them feel like starters. It's stuff we would have done in our first or second exhibition games if we had them (healthy)."
That's all probably true, but I can't shake the idea that Allen's return was hastened because K is going under the knife. It seems like two weeks' removal from one of the most flammable sports stories in 2016 served as enough distance to warrant a quiet return to the floor.
The first indication anyone publicly had of Allen's return came when he was spotted in pregame warmups. After that, minutes before tip, Duke's official Twitter account revealed he would be starting. It was companion content to the drama of Krzyzewski creaking his way onto the sideline. (He looked uncomfortable all night.)
So here's the obvious dilemma Krzyzewski was presented with over the past few days. He's got to have this lower-back surgery, because the discomfort couldn't go on much longer. With that, Jeff Capel is going to step in as the interim coach. So Krzyzewski has to consider what happens when he goes away and if Allen is still suspended. With that hanging in the air, it would be an issue Capel would have to deal with every time he met with the press until the suspension was lifted. And whenever it was lifted, the questions would persist about if it was Capel's call or Krzyzewski's call, and if it was Krzyzewski's, was he in the right position to accurately make the decision?
See how exhausting all of that was? That's why Krzyzewski did what he did. He is protecting both of his players in this instance. Duke guys look after Duke guys. I understand it.
I can also think the move was done purely because Krzyzewski's surgery hurried the decision. The question I ask you all is this: If Krzyzewski wasn't in need of surgery, would Allen have played on Wednesday night? I believe the answer is no.
I don't think Krzyzewski made this determination lightly. I do think Krzyzewski knows he'll receive criticism yet again, even if he's deeming the one-game suspension "appropriate." Remember, Krzyzewski made public how Allen is no longer a captain. That is a big step in K's mind, no doubt. I can't ever recall a Duke captain losing his title. Couple that with the suspension, add in K's impending surgery, and all the elements were in play to make this decision now and not place it in Capel's lap.
Ultimately, I just think it would've shown more confidence in Capel and been subject to less backlash if Allen had sat even one more game. To those who want to rip on the "indefinite" suspension turning into a one-game sit-out, only to see Allen return after that one game was a Duke loss? It's completely fair.
Listen, this is all I really care about on this topic: Grayson Allen no longer acting like someone who can't help but trip people when he gets pissed off on the floor. Krzyzewski, hopefully, has sent a strong enough message, privately, to Allen that he knows this can't happen again. If it happens again, there will be people calling for Allen to never play again this season, and depending on if/when that happens, those cries won't be unreasonable.
If we've seen the worst of Allen, then the one-game suspension and away-from-the-game help he has gotten (and could still be receiving) did its job. But the verdict on this isn't decided because the suspension is over. We won't have resolution on the Allen saga until the season has finished with nary another on-court incident.