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Derrick White reportedly could replace Kawhi Leonard if Clipper isn’t healthy enough for Paris Olympics

2024 NBA Finals - Game Four

DALLAS, TEXAS - JUNE 14: Derrick White #9 of the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Dallas Mavericks chase a loose ball during the third quarter in Game Four of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 14, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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From the moment USA Basketball announced an almost Dream Team-like collection of stars on its Men’s 5x5 Paris Olympics roster — leaning hard into veteran players who have proven themselves on the biggest stages — there has been one overriding concern: Health. For example, Joel Embiid was not healthy enough for the playoffs and is critical to the team’s success. Tyrese Haliburton missed playoff time with injuries as well.

However, the biggest concern might have been the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard. He was out from March 31 through the playoffs with swelling and inflammation in a knee that has had ACL and meniscus surgery in the past. It was never clear if he would be healthy enough when training camp starts in Las Vegas in early July.

If Leonard can’t go, USA Basketball has its eyes on the Celtics’ Derrick White, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on NBA Countdown before Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

“I’m told that Derrick White will be a prominent replacement candidate for USA Basketball’s summer Olympic roster if the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard is not able to fully rehab back that knee injury that ended his playoff season prematurely. That’s certainly something USA Basketball is monitoring.”

It makes sense. What Leonard provides this team when healthy is high-level two-way play — a lock-down defender who is physical and can get buckets on the other end. White can do the same things — he was an All-Defensive Team player this season who averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game for the Celtics. All things being equal (especially health), Leonard does those things better than White overall, but the Celtics guard would be plug-and-play on a Team USA roster that is not short of scoring options. He could be a glue guy.

“I think defense, I think experience [were priorities], a collective understanding of just how to win, whether that’s on the FIBA stage or even on the NBA stage,” USA Basketball Executive Director Grant Hill said about his roster. “And then, you know, it’s a puzzle you want, obviously, talented individuals... who can blend and can fit, and it can play certain roles that you need. But I think defense was certainly a priority. And defensively, having guys that are capable of locking down, starting multiple sets within a possession. I think maturity, and emotional maturity, and then just blending personalities.”

White fits those criteria.

If White heads to Paris, that would be three Celtics on the Olympic team — Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday are also on the roster. If Hill wants to go another direction, Jaylen Brown could slot into the Leonard role just as smoothly.

USA Basketball opens its training camp in Las Vegas on July 6 and will be there through an exhibition game against a stacked Canadian team led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on July 10. They then head to a USA Basketball Showcase in Abu Dhabi, then on to Paris, where they will be the heavy gold medal favorites, but it will be no easy road.