Derrick White replaces Kawhi Leonard on US Olympic men’s basketball team

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Derrick White of the NBA champion Boston Celtics has replaced the Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard on the U.S. team for the Paris Olympics, USA Basketball said Wednesday in the first shakeup to a roster that was announced in the spring.

Leonard missed 12 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ final 14 games this past season with right knee inflammation, though he said in recent days that he felt fine and the knee was doing well. USA Basketball said it, along with the Clippers, made the decision on Leonard’s status for Paris.

“Kawhi has been ramping up for the Olympics over the past several weeks and had a few strong practices in Las Vegas,” USA Basketball said in a statement. “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.”

White averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists for the Celtics this past season. His selection gives Boston three of the 12 players on the U.S. roster; Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday also are Paris-bound.

White is expected to be in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, later this week to join the U.S. squad. The team will fly to Abu Dhabi from Las Vegas on Thursday and is scheduled to practice there Saturday ahead of exhibition games against Australia on July 15 and Serbia on July 17.

“I am happy to announce that Derrick will compete at his first Olympic Games on the heels of a championship season in Boston,” USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill said. “We look forward to him joining the team in the coming days as we continue preparations for Paris.

“I want to thank Kawhi for his commitment to the USA Men’s National Team," Hill added. "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.”

White — a second-team All-Defensive selection after this past NBA season, meaning he'll clearly take some of the on-ball defending duties that the Olympic team likely envisioned Leonard having — has some USA Basketball experience, including being part of the 2019 World Cup team that finished seventh in China. He and the Celtics agreed on a four-year extension worth nearly $126 million after the playoff run, one in which he led Boston with 65 made 3-pointers on a team-best 40.4% shooting from beyond the arc.

Leonard is a two-time NBA champion, six-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA player, but injury issues have been a recurring theme in his career. USA Basketball had monitored him closely in recent weeks, making sure he was doing well enough to be on the court after his season with the Clippers ended prematurely.

He has missed 256 regular-season games over the last seven years, including all of the 2021-22 season with knee trouble. He appeared in 68 games this past season for the Clippers, his most since playing in 74 for San Antonio during the 2016-17 season.

“This is just my journey,” Leonard said earlier this week, discussing his injuries. “I can’t lay out the perfect script for me. Last year I 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. I don’t want to be in a situation that (I'm) in, but I've got to take it for what it is. And a lot of people are watching, supporters or doubters. But I motivate a lot of people, so I've got to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Leonard — part of a 592-person Olympic team formally named by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee earlier Wednesday — had said earlier this week that his knee was fine and he was able to resume on-court training about three weeks ago to get ready for the Games.

“I’m ready to go,” Leonard said then. “I’m playing now so, I’m happy.”

A couple of days later, hours before the first U.S. exhibition game against Canada and one day before the team departs for Abu Dhabi — the first of two international stops for more games and practices before arriving in France for the Olympics — Leonard was gone.

Leonard's departure leaves the U.S., at least until White arrives, with 10 available players. Kevin Durant will not play against Canada because of a calf strain and could not compete in the team's four-day training camp in Las Vegas that ended Tuesday. USA Basketball is working under the expectation that Durant will be ready for increasingly more on-court activity in the coming days.

Leonard had been invited to be part of USA Basketball teams in the past and had to decline for various reasons, primarily injury issues or long playoff runs.

“I always wanted to play against other talent overseas or just other basketball styles and players,” Leonard said. “It is one of the reasons why I play the game.”


AP Summer Olympics:

07/10/2024 16:43 -0400

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