Sports

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

LAS VEGAS — (AP) — USA Basketball intended to bring Kawhi Leonard to the Paris Olympics. After watching him play in a four-day training camp, they and the Los Angeles Clippers realized that the plan needed to change.

Derrick White of the NBA champion Boston Celtics is replacing Leonard on the U.S. team for the Paris, the first shakeup to a roster that was announced in the spring. The decision was made Tuesday, White accepted the invitation Tuesday night and USA Basketball announced the move Wednesday morning.

“He wanted to be here like all these guys want to be here," USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill said Wednesday night about Leonard. "And we don’t take that lightly at all. It speaks to the program and the opportunity. Personally speaking, I know what it’s like to want to do something and your body is just not right. And I’ve lived that personally. And so, I applaud him for coming here and being willing to sacrifice, give up his summer and represent our country and play for our program. It just ultimately didn’t work out.”

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. But USA Basketball felt differently and, in conjunction with the Clippers, made the decision.

White, who accepted the invitation after talking with Hill on Tuesday night, 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, in the coming days — plans are still being made — 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. It's unclear if White will be there in time for Saturday.

“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’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. To have someone who can come in and play off of guys, be complementary to some others, but then also stand out ... we're excited.”

Brown, on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, posted this on Wednesday: "(at)nike this what we doing ?" It seemed like an insinuation that Brown, who has been critical of Nike in the past, may have played a role in him not being selected for the Olympic team. Nike is a USA Basketball partner.

“This is about putting together a team," Hill said.

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.

“He has been working, rehabbing, he's looked great," Hill said about Durant. “I think we're just being cautious and conservative. We expect to see him over on the court when we're in Abu Dhabi, at some point.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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