Friday night in Milwaukee, two guys following similar career trajectories met in the paint on a breakaway. Alex Caruso, who in his fifth season has completed the improbable transition from undrafted roster flotsam to vital role player on a very good team, gathered a pass on the run and rose up for an athletic finish. Grayson Allen, a Duke-reared goon who recently added enough offense to his package of leg-sweeps and body-slams to thrive in the orbit of a two-time MVP, made a reckless and dangerous play to contest the layup, sent Caruso spinning to the court, and was promptly booted out of the game.
Allen was assessed a Flagrant 2 penalty, meaning officials deemed Allen’s play unnecessary and excessive, which earns an automatic ejection. Caruso landed hard on his shoulder and right wrist and was in a lot of pain, but managed to finish the game. The Bulls lost. Caruso later described Allen’s play as “kind of bullshit,” but expressed hope that imaging would show a minor injury to the hurt wrist. Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, normally a mild-mannered fellow, described the foul as “really dangerous,” called on the league to take punitive action, and noted that Allen has a well-known history of goonery. In a spectacularly bone-headed move, whoever runs the Bucks’ social media had the bad idea Saturday morning to aim a taunt at Caruso, Donovan, and the Bulls, firing off a tweet showing Allen munching on a donut, under the words “Good Morning.”
That was before Caruso learned Saturday afternoon that his right wrist was in fact fractured on the play. The injury will require surgery, and Caruso is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks of action, or the bulk of the remainder of the regular season. This is a really shitty break for Caruso and the Bulls. Caruso is having a great year doing all the savvy non-box-score stuff that made him a favorite of Lakers fans but earned him the near-total indifference of the team’s braintrust. Chicago weathered one of the league’s worst omicron outbreaks back in December and early January, and emerged in the thick of the Eastern Conference breakaway playoff pack despite rostering a who’s-who of guys who make you ask, “Who?” They’ve been treading water since Zach LaVine went down with a knee injury in mid-January; with Caruso now lost for at least a month, it’ll be the last week or so of the regular season before the Bulls have a chance to get their rotation back together again. That’s an awful lot of bullcrap to arise from what should’ve been a contested but non-season-threatening transition layup. The Bucks’ stupid donut tweet has since been deleted.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday, in delightful scoop-ese, that “a decision on possible league punishment for Allen has yet to be decided,” and that the NBA normally does “take into consideration any injury suffered by the offended player.” But the consequences will not land equally: The NBA has levied additional punishment for flagrant fouls on just two players this season: LeBron James was suspended for one game for making a bloody mess of Isaiah Stewart’s head, and Markieff Morris was fined $50,000 for a cheap shot to Nikola Jokic that initiated an on-court brawl. A suspension for more than a game or two would be extraordinary, even if the league takes into account “the offending players’ own history,” as recommended by Caruso’s agent following news of the fracture.
The odd stumbling collision notwithstanding, it looked for a while like Allen’s newfound credibility as a rotation player might’ve curbed his habit of compulsively smashing and assaulting his opponents. The prospect of Allen becoming a thoroughly respectable player is disorienting almost to the point of vertigo. It’s almost grounding to see that nothing of the sort has taken place. All NBA players and a solid 75 percent of the world’s rec-league players know how to contest a transition layup without brutalizing an opponent: It’s that special Grayson Allen oomph that adds a wrist grab and a wild clubbing off-hand and turns a routine play into a disaster.
Update (4:59 p.m. ET): Allen has been suspended for one game by the NBA.