Saturday, July 13, 2024

Two-Time NBA Finals MVP Leaves Team USA Before Olympics

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Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard.

Team USA men’s basketball is already one man down before the Summer Olympics, but has quickly found a replacement in one of the NBA’s elite defensive players.

Team USA announced on July 10 that two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has left the Olympic team and will be replaced with Boston Celtics guard Derrick White, a two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection who is fresh off winning his first NBA championship.

“Kawhi has been ramping up for the Olympics over the last several weeks and had a few strong practices in Las Vegas. He felt ready to compete,” USA Basketball said in a press release. “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.”

Leonard missed 12 of the Clippers’ last 14 games of the regular season and 2 of 6 playoff games while dealing with knee issues and was only cleared to play for Team USA two weeks ago.

“I took the time, and I was able to turn around over the last two weeks,” Leonard told ESPN when Team USA reported for training camp in Las Vegas on July 7.  “So I’m out here now and, yeah, I’m having a good time.”

This would have been Leonard’s first time playing in the Olympics. Team USA kicks off Olympic play on July 28 in Paris against Serbia.

White becomes the third player from the Celtics to join Team USA, alongside forward Jayson Tatum and guard Jrue Holiday.


White Went From NCAA Division II to NBA Star

White has perhaps the most unusual path to the Olympics of any player on Team USA’s roster.

Coming out of Legend High School in Parker, Colorado, White had only one scholarship offer from NCAA Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs. He grew from 6-foot to 6-foot-4 before his freshman year and became the RMAC Freshman of the Year in 2013 then a two-time Division II All-American in 2014 and 2015.

White transferred to the University of Colorado for his final college season, where he was an All-Pac-12 pick and played his way into being a first-round pick by the San Antonio Spurs in 2017.

White played five seasons for the Spurs before he was traded to the Celtics midway through the 2022 season and helped them on their run to the NBA Finals. White made the NBA All-Defensive Team the last two seasons and was one of the team’s stars on the way to winning the NBA Finals in 2024.

White was rewarded in the offseason with a massive payday, signing a 4-year, $125.9 million contract extension with the Celtics on July 1.


Leonard’s Injury Issues Have Defined Career

As much as Leonard’s career has been defined by his two NBA Finals MVP awards — one with the Spurs in 2014 and one with the Toronto Raptors in 2019 — it’s also been defined by injury issues.

Leonard only played 9 games in his final season in San Antonio in 2017-2018 and since signing with the Clippers before the 2019-20 season, he’s missed 181 regular-season games in the last five seasons, including the entire 2021-22 season.

Leonard signed a 3-year, $149.51 million contract extension with the Clippers in Jan. 2024. When Leonard’s current contract runs out in 2026, he will have made approximately $426 million in career earnings, including $192.5 million with the Clippers.

 

Tony Adame covers the NFL for Heavy.com, with a focus on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Commanders and Denver Broncos. A veteran sports writer and editor since 2004, his work has been featured at Stadium Talk, Yardbarker, NW Florida Daily News and Pensacola News Journal. More about Tony Adame

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