Team USA says it will select Kawhi Leonard, Derrick White and Grant Hill

Team USA says it will select Kawhi Leonard, Derrick White and Grant Hill

LAS VEGAS – The decision to send Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard home from training camp and replace him with Boston Celtics forward Derrick White on the roster for the upcoming Paris Olympics was ultimately up to the U.S. team itself, U.S. national basketball team executive Grant Hill said.

“We felt like we had to change course, not get into the details of what happened in the decision-making process, but we felt it was in our best interest, and in the best interest of the Clippers and Kahue, to move in a different direction,” Hill said at a news conference Wednesday night ahead of the U.S. team’s first exhibition game against Canada at T-Mobile Arena. “We tried. I think we all tried and made a valiant effort, but unfortunately we have to move on.”

Asked directly if that meant it was Hill’s decision, and by extension Team USA’s, to send Leonard home, he said: “We did. Ultimately he was sent home, but we were in talks with the Clippers about it.”

Leonard’s status was uncertain before camp, after he missed the final three games of the first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks with knee inflammation. Leonard said over the weekend that he wasn’t able to return to full court and practice normally until about two weeks before training camp began, at which point he said he finally believed he would be able to compete in this year’s Olympics.

He arrived at the start of camp wearing a sleeve on his right leg and appeared to have a slight limp, despite participating in each of the past four days of training camp.

“I think he wanted to be here, like all these guys want to be here, and we don’t take that lightly at all,” Hill said. “It speaks to the program and the opportunity, and on a personal level, I know what it’s like to want to do something and your body’s not feeling good. I’ve experienced that personally. So I applaud him for coming here and being willing to sacrifice and give up his summer and represent our country and play for our program. And in the end, it didn’t work out.”

Leonard’s knee injury in the playoffs marked the third straight time Leonard’s postseason appearance has been prematurely ended by injury — not to mention he missed the entire 2021-22 season after tearing the ACL in the same right knee during the 2021 playoffs.

Now, he will not be part of the next Olympics – with White set to replace him.

White’s selection meant that JaeLen Brown, his Boston Celtics teammate who won the Eastern Conference Finals MVP and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards, was not selected. After White’s selection was announced, Brown first tweeted a series of emojis and then tweeted to Nike, “This is what we do?” in an apparent reference to Nike’s sponsorship of the U.S. team.

Hill was asked about Brown’s tweets, and dismissed the idea that the shoe company had anything to do with the decision to select White. He added that taking any player off the team is the hardest part of his job.

“You get 12 spots, and you have to build a team,” Hill said. “And one of the hardest things is cutting out the guys that I’m a huge fan of and that I look forward to watching all season, all playoffs. Guys that have been Finals MVPs, guys that have been part of the program, guys that have won gold medals, guys that I respect and admire and enjoy watching. But the responsibility that I have is to build a team that complements each other, a team that fits into the team that’s going to give us the best chance to be successful.

“So whatever theories there may be, they are just theories. But that’s my responsibility. And it’s hard. It’s hard to have conversations and tell people they’re not on the team.

“I’m trying to win and I’m trying to put together the right pieces that fit and give us a chance to win.”

Ultimately, that led to the U.S. team selecting White, who ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last month would be the person selected to replace Leonard if he couldn’t go to Paris.

Hill said White will not be coming to Las Vegas because he needs to get his life in order before he unexpectedly takes off next month, hoping White will be ready in time to join the team in Abu Dhabi for the first training session on Saturday.

“It’s bittersweet at the same time, but we’re very happy to add Derrick White,” Hill said.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Derrick’s, he just won a championship. One of the many things I really like about Derrick, especially with his team, is that I don’t feel like his role with our team is much different than what he does with the Boston Celtics. He’s playing alongside two incredibly good young players in JaeLen Brown and Jayson Tatum. And that’s tough when you come in and you’re the center of your universe, and now you have to create a role, and it might be different than what you have to do with your team. So having someone who can come in and play against guys, be a complement to some of the others, but also stand out and be a dynamic defensive player, make shots, and just impact the win.”

On the other injury question — Kevin Durant, who has yet to practice after suffering a calf strain about 10 days before training camp began and missed Wednesday’s game against Canada — Hill said Durant will travel to Abu Dhabi and stay with the team.

“Durant will be on the plane, unless you know something about it,” Hill said. “He’s been working and getting treatment, and he’s looked great. I think we’re being cautious and careful; I think we expect to see him on the court when we’re in Abu Dhabi.”

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