‘Up and down practices’ prompt Kawhi Leonard to withdraw from U.S. Olympic team

Clippers star Kawhi Leonard went through multiple practices before the U.S. men’s basketball Olympic team announced he was withdrawing from the Games to focus on rebuilding his strength ahead of the upcoming NBA season.

Kawhi Leonard said his surgically-repaired right knee was “at a neutral state” after a fourth day of training camp practice with Team USA and was hopeful it remained that way.

It did not.

So, in consultation with Team USA and the Clippers, Leonard has withdrawn from the Paris Olympics so the forward can concentrate on getting his knee healthy for the 2024-25 NBA season.

“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 Wednesday morning. “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.”

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The team replaced Leonard with Boston guard Derrick White ahead of Wednesday’s exhibition against Canada, a game Leonard had said he was going to play in.

“Yeah, I think I will suit up tomorrow,” Leonard said Tuesday after practice. “Everything has been good so far. It’s been at a neutral state and hopefully it stays that way.”

But injuries have been a big part of Leonard’s five seasons in Los Angeles.

He played in 68 games last season, the most since he played in 74 for the San Antonio Spurs in 2016-17, but he missed the Clippers’ final eight regular-season games because of right knee inflammation.

Leonard then played in Games 2 and 3 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks but missed the last three because of inflammation. His last NBA game was April 26.

Out of 410 regular-season games with the Clippers, Leonard has played just 226.

He missed the entire 2021-22 season because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 2021 playoffs. He tore his right meniscus during the 2023 playoffs against the Phoenix Suns and had a “cleanup” procedure last summer.

After practice Sunday, Leonard talked about his poor health history.

“Last year, I tried to play as much as possible, felt great and you know at a certain period of time I couldn’t go,” he said. “I tried the best that I could, but it’s just my journey. You know I don’t want to be in the situation that I do be in, but I gotta take it for what it is. And you know a lot of people are watching. Supporters or doubters, but I motivate a lot of people. So, I gotta keep doing what I’m doing. I might be the most known at the time right now, like injury [problems] or whatever, but people or players have worse luck than I have.

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“Just being able to keep going is going to motivate the next guy that’s watching you. And even if you’re not playing, a sport is motivational. Is what I get from other people. So I’m gonna keep going.”

People not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told The Times last week that there was concern about Leonard’s knee after Grant Hill, the managing director of Team USA, Steve Kerr, the coach of Team USA, and Lawrence Frank, the Clippers president of basketball operations, watched him work out at the Clippers’ practice facility recently.

Kerr told The Times after practice Tuesday that Leonard has been “up and down” during the practices with Team USA.

“The first day he was moving well early, not so much later, and it makes perfect sense because he’s coming off that injury,” Kerr told The Times. “The tricky part here is that you have an accelerated timeline for preparation. So, that’s what we have to determine and he has to help us determine. Can with this accelerated timeline — can he be at his best a couple of weeks from now when this thing starts?”

The answer turned out to be no.

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