Saturday, July 13, 2024

Kawhi Leonard Withdraws from Team USA; Celtics’ Derrick White Replaces Clippers Star

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 08: Kawhi Leonard #8 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's National Team walks on the court after a practice session during the team's training camp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 08, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

USA Basketball announced Wednesday that Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has withdrawn from the 2024 Olympic team.

In a statement, USA Basketball noted that while Leonard “felt ready to compete” and had some good practices with the team despite missing the Clippers’ final four playoff games last season with a knee injury, USA Basketball and the Clippers determined it was “in his best interest” to withdraw.

Andscape’s Marc J. Spears reported that Leonard’s camp reached out to USA Basketball two days ago “expressing concern,” which may have played a role in the decision.

According to the Los Angeles TimesBroderick Turner, “People not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told The Times last week that there was concern about Leonard’s knee after Grant Hill, the managing director of Team USA; Steve Kerr, the coach of Team USA; and Lawrence Frank, the Clippers president of basketball operations, watched him work out at the Clippers’ practice facility recently.”

“I want to thank Kawhi for his commitment to the U.S. men’s national team,” USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill said. “He earned the opportunity to represent the United States, but USA Basketball and Clippers leadership felt it’s important to allow Kawhi to prepare for the NBA season.”

The 33-year-old Leonard played in 68 regular-season games in 2023-24, marking the first time he reached the 60-game mark since the 2018-19 campaign, which was his only year with the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a torn ACL and returned to appear in 52 contests the following season.

This past season, Leonard reclaimed his spot as one of the NBA’s top players, averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 three-pointers made and 1.6 steals per game en route to his sixth career All-Star selection.

However, the two-time NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year missed four of the Clips’ six first-round playoff games against the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks due to knee inflammation.

Anything knee-related is a concern for Leonard since he has missed a significant amount of time during his career with knee issues.

Leonard signed a three-year, $149.5 million contract extension with the Clippers in January, and given that Paul George left L.A. for the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency, the Clips can ill afford to have Kawhi risk further injury.

The Clippers’ head coach, Ty Lue, is an assistant coach for Team USA, meaning he had a firsthand look at Leonard during Team USA’s practices and scrimmages this week.

White becomes the third 2024 NBA champion on the roster alongside Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday.

The 30-year-old White is coming off the best season of his career, as he averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 three-pointers made and 1.0 steal per game while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc.

White has been named to the NBA All-Defensive second team in each of the past two seasons, so he would give Team USA another elite perimeter defender.

Despite losing a player of Leonard’s stature, the Americans remain heavy favorites to win a fifth straight Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball due to the presence of superstars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Tatum and others.

Team USA’s first group game at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris is scheduled for July 28 against Serbia, followed by clashes with South Sudan and Puerto Rico on July 31 and Aug. 3, respectively.

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