Friday, July 12, 2024

Kawhi Leonard withdraws from Team USA’s 2024 Olympics squad, Derrick White replaces him on roster

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Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is withdrawing from Team USA and will not play in the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games, USA Basketball announced on Wednesday. USA Basketball then announced that Derrick White of the Boston Celtics will replace Leonard on the roster.

Here’s the official statement about Leonard from USAB:

“Kawhi has been ramping up for the Olympics over the past several weeks and had a few strong practices in Las Vegas. He felt ready to compete. However, he respects that USA Basketball and the Clippers determined it’s in his best interest to spend the remainder of the summer preparing for the upcoming season rather than participating in the Olympic Games in Paris.”

ESPN’s Marc Spears reported that Leonard’s camp expressed concern to USA Basketball two days prior to this announcement.

Leonard missed the last eight games of the 2023-24 regular season because of a right knee injury. He attempted to come back during the Clippers’ first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks, but, after appearing in Games 2 and 3, he was sidelined again.

Team USA’s first exhibition game is Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET against Canada at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

At practice on Tuesday, Leonard told reporters, “Yeah, I think I’ll suit up tomorrow,” per ESPN. “Everything’s been good so far. [The knee has] been at a neutral state, and I hope it stays that way.” 

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, an assistant coach with Team USA, told ESPN on Tuesday, “He’s been good, the best I’ve seen him move since he got injured. Moving really good. It’s good to see him healthy and trending in the right direction.”

On Sunday, Leonard told reporters that he had previously been concerned that he might have to miss the Olympics but he “took the time, and I was able to turn around over the last two weeks,” via ESPN. Leonard said that, last season, he “tried to play as much as possible, felt great. And at a certain period of time I couldn’t go. I tried the best that I could, but it’s just my journey.”

The next step in his journey, he thought, was to play for his national team for the first time and compete for a gold medal. Ideally, this would have been a relatively low-risk situation: On one of the most stacked rosters in the history of the sport, Leonard would not have to shoulder the same kind of minutes or playmaking load that he’s used to with the Clippers. Evidently, though, he/the Clippers/USA Basketball decided that he wasn’t ready, or that the risk remained too high.

Had he gone to the Olympics, Leonard would have given Steve Kerr’s coaching staff the ability to play enormous, interchangeable lineups — think him next to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum — and an additional bucket-getter for end-of-shot-clock or end-of-game situations. You cannot, however, look at the names on the roster and say that Team USA lacks versatility or shot creation without him. While swapping Leonard for White is a downgrade in terms of size and sheer star power, it might make the team a bit more balanced. White will hardly have to adjust his game at all to fit in on this team, which is precisely why he’s the perfect choice to replace Leonard.

White, 30, is the only member of Team USA who has never made an All-Star Game. He had a legitimate case this year, though, because of his undeniable two-way impact on the Boston Celtics. He’s one of the best defensive guards on the planet, a lights-out shooter and a world-class decision-maker. Even though he won’t complain about his minutes or role, I could see Kerr having trouble keeping him off the floor. The one thing Team USA does not have, especially compared to its international opponents, is continuity. White is the kind of guy who ties the room together, and, in theory at least, his presence should help the stars be themselves and the team become more than the sum of its parts. Kerr could even play him next to his Celtics teammates Tatum and Jrue Holiday, if he chooses.

Team USA’s full roster, in alphabetical order: Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Haliburton, Jrue Holiday, LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Derrick White.

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