Kawhi Leonard gave on Sunday the closest public statement of any American male basketball player of his caliber to accepting a Tokyo Olympic roster spot if offered since the Games were postponed to this year.
“A lot of people were in for 2020, but just the pandemic pretty much killed everything,” Leonard said before the NBA All-Star Game. “Right now, my plan is to go.”
If Leonard makes the 12-man team, he will reunite with Gregg Popovich, the U.S. Olympic head coach and the coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard played for the Spurs from 2011-18 before going to the Toronto Raptors and now the Los Angeles Clippers.
In 2016, Leonard withdrew from Rio Olympic consideration without citing a reason days before the final roster was announced. In 2012, after his NBA rookie season, Leonard was part of the U.S. select team of young players who practiced with the Olympic team.
Other U.S. superstars, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, have been asked about the Tokyo Games this season but were not yet ready to commit to or decline a roster spot if offered.
It’s a tougher decision this year given the NBA season will end later than usual. A potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be July 22, the day before the Opening Ceremony.
“It doesn’t really matter how much success that we have,” said Leonard, whose Clippers stand fourth in the Western Conference. “If I feel up to it, if I feel ready to go around that time, then I’m going to play.”
Complicating matters: The deadline for nations to submit Olympic teams is July 5 — during the NBA playoffs — though there is a late athlete replacement policy that extends closer to the start of competition. This usually comes into play for injuries.
Plus, USA Basketball plans to hold a player training camp in early July, also during the NBA playoffs. It hasn’t said whether camp participation will be mandatory for Olympic participation.
USA Basketball petitioned for the rules to be changed on when Olympic basketball rosters must be finalized. Whether a ruling has been made by international officials has not been announced.
The U.S. finished seventh at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, its worst-ever senior national team tournament result.
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