Kawhi Leonard was looking forward to playing in the Paris Olympics. It would have been his first foray in international competition, and he felt the opportunity was too good to pass up. Never mind that a cacophony of injuries had hitherto compelled him to miss a whopping 256 National Basketball Association games over the last seven years. He had been invited to represent the United States on previous occasions, but had to beg off either due to his lack of fitness or because of extended postseason runs in the National Basketball Association. This time around, he resolved to be part of the cause of the red, white, and blue; no doubt, he wanted to be counted among the talents in arguably the strongest roster ever to be assembled for the Summer Games.

Considering Leonard’s commitment, yesterday’s news of his withdrawal from Team USA’s supersquad was nothing short of disappointing. Prior to his decision to step back from the undertaking, he had declared himself ready for the challenge. He was cleared to suit up after a two-month period of convalescence, and, in fact, participated fully over the first three days of training camp in Las Vegas. That said, officials — particularly Clippers president of hoops operations Lawrence Frank and chief bench tactician Tyronn Lue (doubling as an assistant on the coaching staff for the Olympics and, therefore, in prime position to make an informed assessment) — thought it best to err on the side of caution.

To be sure, the Clippers have a right to be abundantly prudent. For one thing, Leonard has had a troubling history of ailment after ailment preventing him from burning rubber. For another, they just signed him to a three-year contract worth $150 million. It’s but natural for them to protect their investment, especially in the wake of fellow All-Star Paul George’s departure. They likewise have to make sure he is on the marquee following their transfer to the Intuit Dome; far be it from them to tread water while showcasing their new home.

For Team USA, Leonard won’t be too much of a loss. It’s too stacked to be affected by his absence. Heck, it can even be argued that the arrival of Derrick White, fresh off a championship run with the Celtics, makes it even stronger. Bottom line, its prospects depend on other reliables. Still, it’s too bad for him; Paris would have been his last best hope for gold. He’ll be 37 when the 2028 Olympics roll around in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, he’s compelled to go onward and upward, with the Clippers anxiously watching his every move.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications,  and business development.