Team USA camp: Kawhi Leonard decision not surprising; Bam Adebayo still irked about DPOY

LAS VEGAS — A lot of people were surprised to see Kawhi Leonard commit to Team USA for the Summer Olympics following his inability to finish the Los Angeles Clippers’ season, so no one seems truly surprised by his decision to pull out and focus on the upcoming NBA season.

The media was only allowed to see but so much of the scrimmages between the Olympic team and the Select Team, but Leonard wasn’t out there, which sparked a little bit of concern. Clippers front office officials were in attendance for the early workouts, and it’s likely they influenced the decision for Leonard to withdraw.

“Kawhi has been ramping up for the Olympics over the past several weeks and had a few strong practices in Las Vegas. 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,” USA Basketball said in a statement.

All of this is heightened because of Leonard’s injury history, but the visuals were just a small sample. Team USA assistant coach and Clippers head coach Ty Lue seemed to head things off by saying it was good for Leonard to get himself into playing shape by being on the team compared to doing it in training camp.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 07: Kawhi Leonard #8 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's National Team looks to pass under pressure from Jabari Smith Jr. #39 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's Select Team during a practice session scrimmage at the team's training camp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 07, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard will not be participating with Team USA in Paris. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

But that was just a misdirection, even after Leonard sounded optimistic following practice Tuesday, with an exhibition game against Canada looming Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

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

Apparently it wasn’t, and he’ll be replaced by Boston Celtics guard Derrick White, making it three Celtic members who played deep into June during their run to the NBA title. For Leonard, it appears to be yet another setback in a period full of them since becoming a Clipper in 2019.

He didn’t finish the 2021 playoffs, suffering a torn ACL during the second round — when the Clippers subsequently advanced to within two games of the NBA Finals. He missed the entire 2021-22 season, and after slow walking the 2022-23 season, he only played two games in the Clippers' first-round series against Phoenix.

And this past season he was unable to complete the first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks after playing 68 games — the most he’s played since 2016-17, when he finished third in MVP voting.

Miami’s Bam Adebayo has been one of the most affable stars in the NBA, always accommodating, but even he can have rightful moments of frustration. He’s made the All-Defensive Team every year since 2019-20, but hasn’t won the top award — finishing third this past year behind Rudy Gobert and rookie Victor Wembanyama.

Antennas were raised when he shrugged off the possibility of going against the French duo in the Olympics, so he spoke about it after his media session with a small group of writers in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon.

“I have to do all this and average 20, 10 and 5,” he said to Yahoo Sports recently, muttering down the hallway at Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel.

"That’s one thing that irks me, it’s not my fault I’m versatile,” Adebayo said. “I’ve been top five in DPOY voting the last five years, there’s been guys y’all (media) been giving it to over me.”

Because the CBA stipulates individual awards can escalate contract values, had Adebayo won it one of these years, he would’ve been eligible for a greater contract extension than the three-year, $166 million deal he agreed to recently. If he’d waited and done a four-year deal, he would’ve netted over $100 million more.

But you get the feeling it’s less about the money and more about the recognition.

“A point guard (Marcus Smart) got it over me, a center (Rudy Gobert) got it over me, a power forward (Jaren Jackson Jr.) has gotten it over me,” Adebayo told Yahoo Sports. “The goalposts move for me, in certain degrees. It’s me and a lot of undrafted dudes, and we still have a top-five defense.”

“These other guys have All-NBA dudes (around them). Some of it is, they don’t really care about us and that’s fine. I think they should pay attention to consistency because being top five DPOY, I think I have the longest streak of All-Defensive teams, so the goalposts move for me.”

Of those players, he’s the only one with an offensive responsibility and is also a hub for offense.

U.S. Olympic assistant coach Erik Spoelstra was amused when it was brought up.

“We’re still talking about that? Good,” the Miami Heat coach said somewhat sarcastically.

“It’s all how you view it. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. It’s about having a great defensive team. It’s about anchoring a great defense, making players around you better defensively and having extraordinary defensive talent. He checks all those boxes.”

“But the argument, we’re past that now.”

Maybe he is, but Adebayo is still unnerved by it — and maybe plans on taking it out on the French when the time comes.