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Jerry Colangelo to step down as president of USA Basketball

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There will be a complete changing of the guard at the top of USA basketball heading into the next World Cup.

Gone is Mike Krzyzewski as coach, replaced by the most logical next in line, Gregg Popovich (who spent a lot of time with Team USA in the run-up to the Rio Olympics this summer).

Now Jerry Colangelo, the USA Basketball Chairman who orchestrated a rebuild of its structure, is stepping down and will not seek a third term, it was announced Thursday. Colangelo will continue as the Managing Director of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team — meaning he will be hands on in selecting that team — but he will back away from other levels of the organization.

“Given the coaching change and the challenge of assembling a group of players for FIBA’s new competition schedule, this is a good time to devote my full attention to the Men’s National Team,” Colangelo said in a statement. “As Chairman of USA Basketball, I’m proud of what our teams at all levels have accomplished and how our players have embraced the responsibility of representing their country.  I look forward to working with the next Chairman to ensure that we continue to honor and build on USA Basketball’s rich tradition.”

A new Chairman will be elected by the USA Basketball Board of Directors at its meeting Nov. 14. We already know who is in line for the position, and my guess is General Martin Dempsey will pass the USA Basketball background check.

Colangelo took over in 2004 after the USA won bronze in Athens and didn’t look good doing it. Beyond just recruit top players to the senior men’s team, he set out to rework the structure of USA Basketball and have top players competing for their country — and wanting that honor — at a young age. The other key was to get all these teams playing the same system and style.

It was a prestige honor before, but once (Colangelo and Krzyzewski) came in and built up a culture, it totally changed into a different dynamic,” Kyrie Irving told NBCSports.com this summer after a Team USA practice. “Every generation that is coming up has to come through USA Basketball if you’re, quote/unquote, a top player in the country….

“I myself played when I was 17 years old going into Duke. I end up going (to college) for one year, then I end up playing on the select team that I’m playing against today (the NBA rookies and young stars that the USA scrimmages against).”

Irving was part of the USA team that won gold in Rio this summer. That Rio medal showed how Colangelo had changed USA basketball — in 2004 a lot of top players pulled out of going to Athens (both over security concerns and most of them couldn’t stand coach Larry Brown) and there was no structure of good players in the system to step up and take their place. The team was just slapped together, and they hoped for the best. The got bronze. In 2016 a lot of top players pulled out of the Rio Olympics (injuries, Zika virus, and other concerns) but now there was a structure in place with guys who had come up through the system. The result was golden.

Not everyone around the NBA is happy that Colangelo — who also is an executive with the Philadelphia 76ers — has access to all this top talent from the NBA and could potentially leverage that to his advantage. The NBA put limits on his contacts with players, although he can speak to them specifically about USA basketball issues.

Colangelo is already talking about who might make the 2020 roster for the Tokyo Olympics, but he and the national team face real challenges before then. As Colangelo noted, FIBA changed the schedule for qualifications to the World Cup, which is now in 2019 (one year before the Olympics) to be during the NBA and other winter seasons of top leagues. Unlike European soccer leagues, which take breaks so players can compete in these tournaments, the NBA and top Europeans and other leagues are not. So the USA will be sending and interesting team of D-Leaguers and others to these games. It’s a disastrous idea from FIBA that Colangelo and USA Basketball have to deal with.

He’s not retiring; that’s for sure.

Celtics’ Jae Crowder sprains ankle, out at least a week

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The Celtics are already without Al Horford for a couple of games (at least) with a concussion.

Now comes the news versatile starting forward and key defender Jae Crowder is going to miss some time as well, due to a sprained ankle. You can see the second quarter play against the Bulls where it happened above: Crowder got the ball at the arc and went up like he was going to shoot, but as Rajon Rondo closed he decided to turn his body mid-air and pass to Isaiah Thomas. When Crowder lands, he rolls his left ankle pretty badly. He hops straight to the locker room.

Team officials said he’s out at least a week, according to A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com. Which is bad news with the Cavaliers up next on the schedule. Here is what coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

“I don’t think we’re into it enough to make an assessment on that timeline,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It doesn’t sound like he’ll be back any time soon.”

We don’t know the grade of the sprain yet, but it looked nasty and may have him out more than a week.

Expect Stevens to mix and match lineups with Crowder out. Jaylen Brown, James Young, Jonas Jerebko, and Terry Rozier all could see a little more court time, depending on matchups.

Three things we learned Wednesday: Thunder winning with defense

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It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while watching the best World Series Game 7 we have seen in a long time…

1) Russell Westbrook is great, but Thunder defense is getting them wins.
Trivia time: Which team has the best defensive rating in the NBA so far? San Antonio? Nope, seventh best. Cleveland? Tenth. Atlanta? Fallen to third.

It’s Oklahoma City. Through four games — all wins — the Thunder are allowing just 88.1 points per 100 possessions.

We’ve all been watching Russell Westbrook, and with good reason. He put up 35-6-5 in a win against the Clippers Wednesday and it looked like an off night. He’s been a beast.

But despite that, the Thunder offense is scoring less than a point per possession and is ranked 28th in the league so far. They are winning in spite of the offense, not because of it.

The Thunder are winning because of a physical, athletic, long, aggressive defense — one without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka (it wasn’t talked about much, but Ibaka’s overall defense had slipped the last season). Check out the Clippers’ shot chart from Wednesday.

Clippers shotchart

The Thunder are doing it with balance: Teams aren’t shooting well, an eFG% of 45.5 (third best in NBA), the Thunder are forcing turnovers and cleaning up the glass. It’s been a team effort — one that will get put to the test Thursday night against the Warriors.

We can question how long Westbrook can sustain this offensive pace, but if the Thunder can keep playing defense like this they will keep winning even if he slows down a little.

2) DeMar DeRozan scores 30, reaches Jordan/Kobe start of season numbers. DeMar DeRozan is feeling the post-Olympics bump to start the season. The Raptors guard dropped 40 on the Washington Wizards Wednesday night to lift Toronto to the win — he did it on 14-of-23 shooting, and once again had only one three, doing almost all his damage in the midrange (12-of-20 shooting from there).

DeRozan has scored at least 30 points in each of Toronto’s first four games. Via ESPN’s stats, who are the last three guys to start the season with at least four games of 30+ points? Kevin Durant in 2011, Kobe Bryant in 2005, and Michael Jordan in 1986. That’s some impressive company.

3) It’s early, but is anyone going to top Sam Decker for blooper of the year? Doubt it. A clear path to the basket, no defenders between him and the rim, and down he goes.

If you want to see more bad basketball from Wednesday, the Hornets and 76ers can help you out.

James Harden has 30 points, 15 assists, Rockets rout Knicks 118-99

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NEW YORK (AP) — James Harden had 30 points and 15 assists, and the Houston Rockets routed the New York Knicks 118-99 on Wednesday night.

The NBA’s leader coming into the day with 11.8 assists per game toyed with the Knicks defense, setting up teammates for lobs or open 3-pointers as the Rockets easily bounced back from a loss in Cleveland a night earlier.

Eric Gordon added 21 points for Houston, which has won seven straight at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks haven’t defeated the Rockets at home since Jan. 26, 2009, so long ago that their coach was current Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.

Harden also grabbed six rebounds, a night after he had 41 points and 15 assists in the Rockets’ 128-120 loss in Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points for the Knicks, who besides their poor defense also heard loud boos for their rebounding and turnovers in a dismal performance.

Watch Suns Eric Bledsoe hit OT game winner, give Suns first victory

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Portland and Phoenix were tied 115-115 with just 6.4 seconds left in overtime. These are the moments that Damian Lillard and the Blazers have seemed to dominate for a couple of seasons now.

Not Wednesday. It was Eric Bledsoe and the Suns’ turn.

The Trail Blazers defended the final play well, Lillard switched onto Bledsoe off the pick, took away driving lanes, and forced a step-back three.

Nothing but net.

Give the Suns credit, but this is a tough loss for Portland.