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Kawhi Leonard Withdraws From U.S. Olympic Team Because Of Knee Issues

The U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team will attempt a gold medal five-peat in Paris without six-time NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard withdrew from Team USA on Wednesday team because of concerns over the surgically repaired right knee that has kept him out of most meaningful competitions during his last four seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers.

The decision to replace Leonard — Boston guard Derrick White was added to the 12-man roster and is expected to join the team for a two exhibition games in Abu Dhabi next week — came from the management level.

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

“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.”

Sources told the Los Angeles Times that Team USA managing director Grant Hill, Team USA coach Steve Kerr and Clippers’ president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank became concerned about Leonard’s participation after watching him in a recent workout at the Clippers’ training facility in Los Angeles.

Team USA, which has won all five Olympics since a 2004 loss to Manu Genobili and Argentina, also has concerns about Kevin Durant, who has not participated in contact practices because of a calf strain. Team USA began workouts in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Durant did not play in Team USA’s exhibition opener against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Team Canada on Wednesday night but should have plenty of time to recover before the U.S. opens Olympic Group C pool play against Nikola Jokic and Serbia on July 28.

Team USA will play exhibition games in Abu Dhabi against Australia on Monday and Serbia on Wednesday, and has exhibition games scheduled against South Sudan and Germany in London on July 20 and 22.

“I am happy to announce that Derrick will compete at his first Olympic Games on the heels of a championship season in Boston,” Hill said. “I want to thank Kawhi for his commitment to the USA Men’s National Team.

“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.”

While disappointing for Leonard, the move was not entirely unexpected, given the trouble Leonard has had staying on the court since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the 2021 playoffs.

Leonard, 33, played 68 games 2023-24, the most in his five seasons with the Clippers, but he missed the final eight regular-season games with knee inflammation and played in only two of the six first-round playoff games against Dallas, which went on to win the Western Conference.

He suffered the initial injury in the second round of a 2021 playoff series victory against Utah and did not play in the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix, a series the Suns won in six.

Leonard missed the 2021-22 season because of that surgery, which also limited him to five of the Clippers’ first 24 games that season. He played most of the rest of that season, given periodic maintenance days, but suffered torn meniscus in his right knee in the second game of playoff series against the Suns and missed the final four..

He signed a three-year, $149.51 million max contract extension with the Clippers on Jan. 10 and was named to his sixth NBA All-Star team after averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Leonard was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016, and his contributions on that end might be the most difficult to replace, even on a star-studded roster that includes LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Anthony Edwards and Anthony Davis.

Los Angeles Lakers’ center Davis was on the NBA All-Defense first team this season, and guard White has been on the second team the past two seasons. White signed a four-year, $126 million extension with Boston after the Celtics won the NBA title.

Durant also is among the best defenders on a Team USA that could face not only Jokic but Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and France twin towers Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama, the 2024 NBA Rookie of the Year.

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