USA basketball released its list of 57 finalists for the 2021 men’s Olympic team on Thursday, and to no one’s surprise, Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both made the cut.
“Cut” might not even be the proper verbiage, as 15 players were added to the list since the 2020 finalists were announced before the Olympics were postponed. Still, Leonard’s and George’s chances of making the final 12-man roster are extremely high given their level of play this season. They’ve both been All-NBA level stars so far this year, and both play a position that Team USA has shown to value when selecting previous teams.
George has played for team USA before; he won gold in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and would’ve made the 2014 FIBA roster had it not been for the gruesome leg injury that he sustained during a Team USA scrimmage.
Leonard, on the other hand, has not been on any final roster in years past. He would’ve been a no-brainer to make the 2016 team coming off of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, but he opted to keep his summer free in anticipation of the birth of his first child.
Neither player has confirmed or denied whether they are interested in participating in this year’s games in Tokyo. Both players have an extensive injury history, and would no-doubt prioritize health at this stage in their careers if they had any nagging injuries or anticipated any surgeries in the offseason.
There is also the issue of timing. As of now, game seven of the NBA Finals is scheduled for July 22, and the Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23. Barring any scheduling changes from either party (which are entirely possible, given the volatile state of the world right now), that would mean that it would be essentially impossible for the Clippers’ stars to play for Team USA were they lucky enough to make the Finals. Even if they fell short of that goal but made a deep playoff run, the turnaround time is extremely quick.
Given how hectic the past two seasons have been in the NBA due to the pandemic, no one would blame the league’s stars if the Olympics weren’t a top priority for them at the moment. The U.S. is loaded with talent, and should still play fairly well if their B-team shows up in Tokyo (although that didn’t work out so well for the 2019 FIBA team that placed seventh). However, if for whatever reason George and Leonard do decide to play, it would be a thrill to see the duo represent their country.