Sunday, July 14, 2024

Why USA Basketball decided to replace Kawhi Leonard on the Olympic team

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LAS VEGAS – USA Basketball, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Clippers, made the decision to replace Kawhi Leonard on the 2024 Paris Olympics roster, men’s managing director Grant Hill said Wednesday.

“We just felt that we had to pivot and not to get into the particulars in terms of what went into the decision, but we just felt it was in our best interest, but also in the Clippers’ and Kawhi’s best interest, to move into a different direction,” Hill said. “And we tried. I think we all tried, and we gave it a valiant effort and unfortunately we have to move forward.”

USA Basketball announced earlier in the day that Leonard was out and named Boston Celtics guard Derrick White his replacement. Hill said Nike’s partnership had nothing to do with not inviting Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

“You get 12 spots and you have to build a team,” Hill said.

USA Basketball is also monitoring Kevin Durant’s calf injury. The Phoenix Suns star did not practice during the five-day training camp that concluded with an exhibition game Wednesday in Las Vegas.

This would have been Leonard’s first Olympics. Leonard, who missed the Clippers’ final three playoff games in April with a sore right knee, arrived in Las Vegas last week for the team’s training camp and told reporters Sunday that he was in good physical condition.

“It’s good. I’m ready to go,” Leonard told reporters. “I’m playing now, so I’m happy.”

He admitted he had concerns about playing in the Olympics but said, “I took the time, and I was able to turn it around over the last two weeks. So I’m out here now and yeah, I’m having a good time.”

Leonard had surgery to repair a torn ACL three years ago and surgery to repair a meniscus injury a year ago on his right knee. He also missed the final eight games of the regular season.

After watching Leonard practice for four days, USA Basketball staffers on Tuesday discussed Leonard’s future with the team.

“My approach was just, ‘Let’s get through the four days. Let’s hope we can get through the four days and then let’s take a step back and evaluate,’ ” Hill said.

Hill said he called White later in the day, and White needed to ensure his schedule allowed him to make the commitment.

“One of the many things that I really love about Derrick and particularly with this team is I don’t feel like his role changes much with our team from what he does with the Celtics,” Hill said. “He plays alongside two incredibly great young players, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. And this setting is hard when you come in and you have to sort of … you’re the center of your universe and now you have to establish a role and it might be different than what you have to do with your team.

“And so we have someone who can come in and play off of guys, be complimentary to some others, but then also stand out and be a dynamite defensive player, knock down shots, just impact winning.”

White, an important player on Boston’s 2023-24 championship team, averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals and shot 46.1% from the field, 39.6% on 3-pointers and 90.1% on free throws last season. He was named to the All-Defensive team for the second consecutive season.

White gives the U.S. another strong defender who can guard multiple positions, and he’s a capable scorer. He had double figures in points in 17 of Boston’s 19 playoff games and scored at least 15 points in 12 of those games, including 38 against Miami in the first round.

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