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    The Audible: On Kawhi’s Olympic exit, Bronny’s presence and the Dodgers’ shrinking rotation
    • July 10, 2024

    Jim Alexander: An Olympic bombshell of sorts landed this morning: Kawhi Leonard is pulling out of the Games, departing from the U.S. men’s team in a move that apparently was made by USA Basketball in conjunction with the Clippers.

    And my first thought when this story was posted: What are they not telling us?

    Supposedly, Kawhi was feeling fine and was enthusiastic – or as enthusiastic as Kawhi gets, anyway – about playing for his country in Paris this month. And now, suddenly, he’s out, with the sole statement thus far coming from the federation:

    “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.”

    My second thought, while digesting this story: If Kawhi is potentially this fragile that international play poses such a risk, what does that say about the new contract he just signed with the Clippers?

    Mirjam, you’ve been around that organization long enough to have a pretty good sense of what’s going on. So … what’s going on?

    Mirjam Swanson: I suppose the nation is getting a taste of what it is to be a Clippers fan.

    The prospect of Kawhi on any team is worth including him. I’ve seen Kawhi in Terminator mode, when there’s no stopping him. When he’s just an efficient, clinical, steamrolling monster. Everyone wants to experience that again – including Kawhi. It’s pretty clear that he WANTS to play. He wanted to play in the playoffs. He wanted to play in the Olympics. But his health – about which he’s been so guarded for so long – simply precludes him from doing it more and more often.

    It’s just a bummer.

    And because he’s so private about his health, there’s no way for medical experts to weigh in and explain to us what he’s likely dealing with – so now we have what we had this morning, which is a ton of handwringing and second-guessing and finger-pointing in every possible direction. Who was lying about what and when and why and now what and whatnot?

    But it’s probably pretty simple: He’s not healthy enough to go. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. I don’t think the Clippers dangled it in front of him for all these weeks and then pulled it back right when camp started.

    It’s just another gut punch, because the Fun Guy would rather be out there having fun hooping than rehabbing and resting and hoping his knee will cooperate. But that’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just life. It’s just sad.

    I know some Clippers fans were miffed that he’d play in the Olympics after sitting out most of their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks, but I always saw it as a positive thing: That means he was hurt but he’s recovered. Now we know he’s not healthy enough for Olympic competition. That should be more concerning for Clippers fans – not that he wanted to give it a shot in the first place.

    What it means for the team going forward? We’ll see how cooperative his knee is when the season begins, I guess. But by now, Clippers fans know what the rest of the nation learned today – not to hold their breath.

    Jim: Meanwhile, while you were composing all of that, the email tumbled into the inbox – the James Harden signing is now official. A busy morning for the Clippers, even though the Harden signing, reported at $70 million for two years, was basically done a week ago but couldn’t be immediately announced.

    And I’m beginning to think that the NBA has replaced the NFL as the closest thing America has to a 365-day (or 366, in this case) sports obsession. It’s been an organic process, but consider: Regular season, playoffs, Finals, draft, free agency, summer league, and in this case the Olympics, lather, rinse, repeat … and late August and September will provide enough gossip and speculation for ESPN’s NBA Today, the social media pundits and our friend Marc Stein’s Substack newsletter.

    Which brings me to my next subject. There was a suggestion the other day on the Awful Announcing website summed up with this heading: “Is Bronny James ESPN’s new Tim Tebow, where celebrity coverage dramatically exceeds on-field impact?”

    I guess it’s a natural inclination, and it shouldn’t have been surprising that Bronny’s first appearance in summer league (and his first “DNP-Injury” in Game 2 because of swelling in his knee) drew so much attention. Yes, he’s the No. 55 pick in the draft, but he’s also LeBron’s kid. Yes, he’s nowhere near ready for the NBA after one fits-and-starts season at USC, but he’s also LeBron’s kid. You get where I’m going with this.

    The point: Did Rich Paul, the agent, do Bronny a disservice by manipulating things to make sure he went to the Lakers? I’m not suggesting that all of this (to date unwarranted) attention is going to hurt his development, but it’s a distraction that at this point does little more than feed the “engagement farming” industry. (And now I am to understand that was a thing even before JJ Redick mentioned it at his introductory news conference. Boy, am I out of it!)

    Mirjam: “Organic” in that a certain network leveraged and pumped up interest in transactional, fantasy part of the sport to drive interest and spur debate? It’s felt for years now that the general public cares more about the drama and rumors than the basketball, which … is what it is, I guess. There’s no putting the genie back.

    As for Bronny? Yes, there’s way more attention focused on this guy than is warranted for sure, but we all understand why.

    Is that a disservice? I don’t know, a 6-foot-4 player who returned from a health scare to average 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in fewer than 20 minutes per game during his one season at USC just got a $7.9 million contract to play for the Lakers.

    Is it all sorts of intriguing, the idea of one of the game’s all-time greats playing with his son? Yes. Is there going to be a ton of pressure and scrutiny? Uh-huh. Will it be weird to play with your dad? With your dad who might be the greatest player of all time? Could be. Could it be great? Could LeBron teach him things first-hand that Bronny couldn’t learn from someone else somewhere else? Possibly that too.

    But do I feel bad for Bronny? No.

    Is it poor Bronny? No.

    Will it be hard for Bronny? Maybe, but that’s the job. If he didn’t want the gig, he could’ve become a video game developer. But he’s here, let’s see – and we’re all watching – what he’s got.

    Jim: I will say this: A four-year, $7.9 million contract, with a good bit of guaranteed money for a second-round pick, blows a hole in the whole “stay in school” argument. And his attitude about the commotion seems more grounded than those of us observing from afar. He’s there to work and to learn, and the rest doesn’t matter. Good for him.

    Today’s last subject? The incredible shrinking Dodgers pitching staff. When they put Tyler Glasnow on the injured list Tuesday with, um, tightness in his back, it seemed little more than a device to give him a few extra days off. But consider: After Bobby Miller was knocked around again by the Phillies on Tuesday night, the starters’ ERA since Gavin Stone’s complete-game shutout against the White Sox two weeks ago ballooned to 9.20 in 10 games, six of which the Dodgers have lost.

    And as of this moment, the rotation is Stone (tonight’s pitcher in Philly), Landon Knack, James Paxton, Justin Wrobleski and … I guess Sunday’s start in Detroit, the last game before the All-Star break, is either a bullpen game or an opportunity for another Triple-A or Double-A pitcher. The Dodgers have used 30 pitchers already this season, including Kiké Hernandez in one of those let’s-get-this-over-with position player appearances. Meanwhile, Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Dustin May are all on the injured list, and those are just the pitchers.

    Look at it this way: The Dodgers’ B team still has a 7½-game lead in the division. The positive: Just imagine when all the regulars are back. The negative: Will they still have a lead in the division when Betts, Muncy, Kershaw, etc. do return, or are the Padres or Diamondbacks (or both) about to wake up and make a race out of it?

    Gee, maybe they can re-acquire Tyler Anderson. I’m sure the Angels are listening to all offers for their All-Star pitcher. (Then again, USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale reported the other day that the Angels likely will hang on to Anderson.)

    Mirjam: All those pitchers and it appears they need more pitching. Appears they’re going to need it if they intend to get where they’re trying to go, if they’re going to do what they invested so immensely in.

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    But like you point out: The hits just keep coming. And even though the B Team is doing OK, playing catchup so regularly isn’t a recipe for success long term.

    Not with stretches like this recent 10-game spell, in which Dodgers starters have allowed 45 runs in 44 innings, and 51 hits and 12 home runs in that span too, as our Dodgers writer Bill Plunkett pointed out in Tuesday’s game story, chronicling the Dodgers’ sixth loss in 10 games.

    How do the Dodgers’ shore up their rotation? The top options – potentially guys like, say, the Chicago White Sox’s Garrett Crochet and Erick Fedde, or the Detroit Tigers’ Jack Flaherty – will come at a steep price.

    But what could be more costly? Not making a move.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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