Forget the Twitter trash talk, which included the Bucks deleting a Tweet that appeared either to troll the Chicago Bulls, make light of a serious situation, or both.
Forget the debate on whether Grayson Allen is a dirty player, which the Bulls publicly — and privately to the league office — expressed.
Strip away all of that and focus on the absolute gut punch to the Bulls’ season that Alex Caruso’s fractured right wrist and impending surgery represents.
At a time Zach LaVine is nursing a short-term left knee injury and Lonzo Ball is on the precipice of a knee scope to assess meniscus damage, the Bulls lose a big piece from the heart and soul of their defense, one of their best communicators and leaders and someone who regularly appears in closing lineups.
It’s a lot.
The Bulls have overcome a lot this season, including another significant injury caused by a flagrant foul in Patrick Williams, current impactful injuries to Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., and a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak.
But this one seems particularly cruel.
Caruso was in his second game back after missing 15 of 19 contests — including two early exits from games he started due to hamstring and foot injuries, and a string of 13 straight absences extended by a stay in health and safety protocols. Already, the Bulls looked energized by his return.
And in perhaps the cruelest twist: Caruso thought he had avoided serious injury.
As he walked out of Fiserv Forum late Friday, Caruso had just been debriefed on Billy Donovan’s passionate rebuke of Allen’s play. The words meant a lot to Caruso.
Caruso appeared to bounce his head off the hardwood at the conclusion of his scary fall. But asked whether he thought he would enter the league’s concussion protocols, he focused merely on his right arm and wrist.
“I thought I broke it,” Caruso said late Friday before the fracture was diagnosed.
Turns out he was right.
Caruso’s injury has myriad ramifications.
Until LaVine returns, which could be next week, it significantly increases the workload for Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, who have averaged 36.5 and 39 minutes, respectively, over the last four games.
It harms the Bulls’ ability to wreak defensive havoc and turn turnovers into transition opportunities. During Caruso’s last 13-game absence, the Bulls’ defensive rating ranked 24th.
It also could impact management’s approach to the trade deadline. Any decisions on big-ticket acquisitions that might be viewed as the final piece for championship contention — but also cost significant assets — must be weighed against the rising crop of significant injuries.
And it will draw an already close team even closer. Add more chips on shoulders to a group that had plenty. Privately, the Bulls were incensed that Allen never checked on Caruso or appeared to show remorse. The league is still reviewing the incident and does take into account any injuries suffered by the offended player when weighing potential discipline.
The Bucks visit the United Center on March 4. Before Friday’s game, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer fielded a question on the potential of a long-dormant rivalry brewing between the Bucks and Bulls.