USA Basketball made the call to send Kawhi Leonard home in the 'best interest' of the team: 'We had to pivot'


The decision to replace Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard just weeks ahead of the Paris Olympics was ultimately made in the “best interest” of the U.S. men’s national team, USA Basketball executive director Grant Hill said Wednesday. 

In a press conference ahead of Team USA’s exhibition match against Canada at T-Mobile Arena, Grant addressed the situation. He clarified that the decision had been ultimately made by USA basketball on Tuesday, with input from the Clippers. 

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Grant Hill looks on during the game between Team USA and Team Canada on July 10, 2024, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

“We just felt that we had to pivot, and not to get into the particulars in terms of what went into the decision, but we just felt it was in our best interest, but also in the Clippers’ and Kawhi’s best interest, to move into a different direction,” he said.

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“We tried. I think we all tried, and we gave it a valiant effort, and unfortunately, we have to move forward.”

When pressed further about the decision-making, Hill confirmed that USA Basketball had made the call to send Leonard home

“We did. Ultimately, he was sent home, but we were in conversation with the Clippers on that.”

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Kawhi Leonard, #8 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men’s National Team, walks on the court after a practice session during the team’s training camp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 8, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

KAWHI LEONARD WITHDRAWS FROM USA BASKETBALL OLYMPIC TEAM

Plans to bring Leonard to the Summer Olympics were ultimately changed because of the NBA player’s previous injury. He missed 12 of the Clippers’ final 14 games this past season due to right knee inflammation – something he said over the weekend was doing well.

But USA Basketball wasn’t taking any chances.

“He wanted to be here like all these guys want to be here,” Hill continued. “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.” 

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Stephen Curry, #4 of the USA Basketball Men’s Team, celebrates after the game against the Canada Basketball Men’s Team on July 10, 2024, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Derrick White of the NBA champion Boston Celtics was instead picked to replace Leonard on Wednesday. 

“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. “We look forward to him joining the team in the coming days as we continue preparations for Paris.”

Team USA will open their Olympic journey with a group stage game against Serbia on July 28. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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