Before Coach K leaves, he wanted Grayson Allen back

— -- When the cameras cut back from Duke's halftime highlight reel, a curation of the barrage of easy buckets and deep 3-pointers that had built a 61-30 lead, they turned to a two-shot of the Blue Devils' bench.

On the right was Mike Krzyzewski, sitting back in his chair, shoulders slightly hunched, not speaking, his face just this side of uncomfortable grimace. On the left was Jeff Capel, his associate head coach, leaning in, locked in, barking orders and thoughts to the out-of-frame Blue Devils who had just taken the court.

Grayson Allen was among them.

It was just a little glimpse, a brief moment, nothing major. Otherwise, despite Wednesday night being his last before a back-surgery-and-recovery-induced leave, Coach K was Coach K, even as his team blew Georgia Tech off the floor, and Allen was Allen, a key part of that effort, in ways that made the whole night feel normal.

Yet that brief shot was a helpful reminder in contrast: Coach K was leaving. In his absence, the Blue Devils, and everything that comes with them, would fall to Capel and staff. Allen's eventual return, and the public and private management thereof, would be among those things.

And if there's a reason why Allen's suspension ended so suddenly and surprisingly, maybe this was it -- because Coach K had to be the one to end it.

It is nigh impossible to know what happened inside the Duke offices in the two weeks since Allen committed his third trip of an opposing player in a calendar year on Dec. 21 against Elon when Allen boiled over on the bench in some mixture of anger and disbelief. A day later, Krzyzewski, having "had the opportunity to thoroughly review the incident," announced his preseason national player of the year would be "suspended from competition for an indefinite amount of time" for behavior that was "unacceptable and inexcusable."

"There are things behind the scenes that we are doing, and I think it's appropriate what we've done," Krzyzewski said Wednesday.

Allen did lose his co-captaincy in the interim. That part "hurts," Allen said after the win over Tech, as did other parts of the behind-the-scenes process he and his coach went through.

"I talked to Coach many, many times when I came back after break," Allen said. "We had a lot of conversations and meetings, and I went through a lot of stuff after practice. He ultimately felt I was ready to come back, and I felt good coming back, so I accept all the discipline that came way. I know it was my fault."

Of course, it's actually impossible to know what was going through Allen's head during those two weeks, what has passed through it since, whom he has talked to about it (save Coach K, and his parents) and what steps have been taken, basketball-related or not, to ensure that it doesn't happen again. In the offseason, Allen seemed sincere, apologetic and heartfelt when he insisted such mistakes were behind him. He took responsibility then, too.

Another trip, the most brazen yet, sparked not only outrage and schadenfreude but also armchair-psychological concern: Were we sure the kid was OK? That neither Duke nor the ACC (other than a reprimand) punished Allen after either of the first two incidents, in decisions criticized at the time, looked even worse in retrospect.

A lot can happen in two weeks. Still, the seriousness that greeted the third trip in December, not only by fans and the media but by Duke itself, seemed to guarantee that "indefinite" would mean "longer than one game." It ensured that if it didn't -- if Krzyzewski didn't meet some vague consensus standard for punishment, commonly understood to be in the vicinity of three games -- the criticism would be louder than ever.

So why is Allen already back? Why invite bad PR? To beat Georgia Tech by 60?

More crucially, why chance bringing Allen back too soon? How sure are you that he's ready? Why take the risk?

Like any campaign in any sense of the term, college basketball seasons require tactics and strategy, short-term means and long-term objectives. The former might be a film session and pregame scout; the latter, a sense of a team's ultimate potential and an accompanying plan to achieve it. Few would understand this distinction better than Krzyzewski, and that understanding might, in turn, be the best way to understand Wednesday's decision.

Because, well, real talk: In the short term, it looks terrible. Seeing Allen on the floor so soon makes Krzyzewski look weak and stubborn and blind to his own player's faults. It lends to an already widespread sense that Duke just doesn't quite get how bad this all is, and that the conference it belongs to, the ACC, is too feckless to step in.

In the long term, though? It ... kind of makes sense.

Allowing Allen to come back now ensured that Coach K would be the only person criticized or held responsible for the situation while on leave. Capel, whose job will be tough enough for the next month, won't have to answer the questions before ( When is Grayson coming back?) or after ( Why did he come back now?) his return. It ensured that Allen re-enters the rotation in a comfortable home environment and not in one of the super-hostile road venues he will see the rest of his career.

Instead of two major, unusual distractions, Duke, at least internally, can focus on dealing with one. And it allows him to challenge his team, and particularly Allen, as he steps away: I believed in you. Don't let me down. If the tradeoff is media criticism and angry rival fans, that's a tradeoff Krzyzewski seems happy to make.

You have to hand it to the West Point grad: It's a savvy strategic play.

There's one potential flaw: We don't know what happened in Allen's head two weeks ago, or Wednesday night, or at any point in between. There's no telling whether, or when, it might creep back in, if only for a snap second.

We can just guess that he reasoned that the only way Allen's suspension could end, in a way that wasn't potentially damaging to the entire team, was with him at the helm, available for the inevitable postgame questions -- which, it should be noted, were buried Wednesday night by the questions about his own impending absence.

We can only guess that Krzyzewski is taking the least bad of the bad options placed before him, that he's doing the most good for the most people: his staff, all 15 of his players, everyone involved in this promising but troubled quest for a sixth national championship. We can only assume he's sure Allen's issues are settled, that whatever needed to happen in the past two weeks happened, that it won't be a problem again.

He might be right. But he has been wrong before.