Spurs' Leonard latest U.S. player to pass on Rio Games

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[June 24, 2016]  (Reuters) - San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said on Thursday he will not participate in the Rio Games, making him the latest NBA player to opt out of consideration for the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Leonard, a defensive specialist who was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 NBA Finals when the Spurs won the championship, did not disclose any reason for his decision.

"This was a very difficult decision," Leonard, 24, said in a statement released by the Spurs.

"It's an honor to have been considered for the team and I hope that in the future I will have the chance to represent my country by playing for USA Basketball."

The All-Star forward averaged a career-high 21.2 points per game for the Spurs during the 2015-16 season along with 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

While a handful of athletes from other sports have pulled out of the Aug. 5-21 Olympics due to health fears over the Zika virus in Brazil, no NBA player has yet to cite the mosquito-borne virus for their decision.

Zika can cause crippling birth defects and, in adults, has been linked to the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre.

Among the other American NBA players who have already opted out of consideration for the U.S. team are two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin John Wall and LaMarcus Aldridge.

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 Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James, who just finished competing in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals, has yet to make a decision but the Cleveland Cavaliers forward reportedly told reporters at his team's championship parade on Wednesday that he is leaning toward not going to Rio.

The United States men's team will still likely be the deepest and most talented squad in Rio but their level of dominance may not be as daunting as it was when they won the gold medal in 2008 and 2012.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Steve Keating)

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