Healthy Kawhi 'having a good time' with Team USA

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LAS VEGAS — Kawhi Leonard admitted he was concerned about missing out on being part of Team USA due to the right knee injury that forced him to miss the end of the LA Clippers’ first-round playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but said after his knee improved in recent weeks he determined he was able to take part.

“Yeah. But I took the time, and I was able to turn around over the last two weeks,” Leonard told a small group of reporters here Sunday afternoon. “So, I’m out here now and, yeah, I’m having a good time.”

Leonard was having far less of a good time in the playoffs, when he played in Games 2 and 3 against the Mavericks — both Clippers losses — before missing the final three games of that series with right knee inflammation.

It marked the third time in a row that Leonard’s postseason ended prematurely because of injury — not including him missing the entire 2021-22 season after tearing his ACL in that same right knee during the 2021 playoffs.

It’s a run of bad injury luck that played a significant part in the Clippers failing to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon them when Leonard joined up with Paul George five years ago, after the Clippers traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a boatload of picks to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then signed Leonard away from the Toronto Raptors fresh off winning NBA Finals MVP.

But, Leonard said, he’s far from the only player who has had bad injury luck, and he said he can’t do anything to control that.

“Yeah, but this is just my journey, so whatever … I can’t lay out the perfect script for me,” Leonard said. “Last year, I tried to play as much as possible, felt great. And at a certain period of time I couldn’t go. I tried the best that I could, but it’s just my journey. I don’t want to be in a situation that I do be in, but I got to take it for what it is. And a lot of people are watching, supporters or doubters, but I motivate a lot of people.

“So, I got to keep doing what I’m doing and I might be the most known at the time right now, like injury or whatever, but people have, players have worse luck than I have. So just to being able to keep going and keep going is going to motivate the next guy that’s watching me. So I’m going to keep going until I can’t.”

Speaking of George, Leonard was asked about his former co-star leaving to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency, and declined to answer the question, saying he was here to talk about Team USA.

He later clarified that he doesn’t have a problem with George or his decision, but that he was simply trying to keep the focus on Team USA.

As for his knee, Leonard has participated fully in the first two days of practice and “everything’s been going good.”

He has done so under the watchful eye of his coach with the Clippers, Tyronn Lue, as well as members of the team’s front office, including president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and senior vice president Mark Hughes.

Leonard said that the Clippers weren’t concerned about him taking part after missing the end of the season.

“Not really,” he said. “They were positive about the situation. So, yeah, they wasn’t too worried about it.”

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