Saturday, July 13, 2024

Paris Olympics: NBA Champion Withdraws From Team USA

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USA Basketball will be missing one of its best players during the Paris Olympics, as Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has withdrawn from Team USA, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon. Leonard, 33, had missed 12 of the Clippers’ final 14 games last season with a knee injury. This includes all but two of their matches against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs.

Though the reason for Leonard’s withdrawal isn’t explicitly stated, he’s likely still experiencing pain in his right knee. Notably, Leonard appeared to be using his luggage as a crutch upon entering Team USA’s training camp facility.

NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard Withdraws From Team USA

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White “is a strong candidate to replace” the two-time NBA Finals MVP.

White, an ultra-effective two-way player, became a media darling last season. Now an NBA champion, White’s decision-making, defense, and his effectiveness from long-distance are lauded. If he should be named as Leonard’s Team USA replacement, it’ll be the cherry on top of his career year. He’d also join two other Celtics —Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday —in Paris.

Aren’t There Better Options?

After teammate Jaylen Brown won the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals MVP award and 2024 NBA Finals MVP award, he should also be considered. After all, he’s among the league’s best two-end players himself. Nonetheless, White’s off-ball shooting could give him a leg up in the selection process. USA Basketball director Grant Hill isn’t just trying to amass talent, he’s trying to put a puzzle together.

That’s why White’s being considered over guards who, in a vacuum, are better.

For example, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox are franchise stars. Both players have demonstrated exceptional scoring ability. However, neither are as comfortable playing off the ball as White or Holiday. Unlike Indiana Pacers floor general Tyrese Haliburton, their primary focus isn’t finding their teammates for easy looks.

The defensive component is another important factor. Because Team USA is so stacked, several players will have low scoring numbers. These players will have to make their impact felt in other ways, primarily defensively. White, a career role player, will take to that mindset much more than Young or Fox.

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