Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine did not travel with the U.S. men’s basketball team to Tokyo on Monday for the Olympics.
The team announced shortly before it was scheduled to fly that LaVine had entered the health and safety protocols for COVID-19.
The move was made “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a news release from USA Basketball, which added that it hopes LaVine will be able to join the team in Tokyo later this week.
The U.S. team opens Olympic group play Sunday against France.
It’s the latest setback for the U.S. team, which already has had to make two roster changes, including replacing Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal after he was placed in the health and safety protocols.
With three players — the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — still playing in the NBA Finals, only eight of the 12 players on the roster traveled to Tokyo on Monday.
LaVine missed 11 games with the Bulls in April and early May after he tested positive for COVID-19. He reportedly had received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine when he tested positive.
His current situation appears similar to what Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant went through last week as part of USA Basketball’s contact tracing. Grant spent four days in the health and safety protocols “out of an abundance of caution” before getting cleared in time to play in Sunday’s exhibition game against Spain.
That could give LaVine time to join Team USA later in the week. He has started the two games since Beal’s departure, playing 22 minutes Sunday with 13 points, two assists and two rebounds.
The U.S. team, which won the last three Olympic gold medals, had six practices and four exhibitions in Las Vegas and plans to practice four more times in Japan before Sunday’s Olympic opener. The Americans lost their first two exhibitions to Nigeria and Australia before defeating Argentina and Spain.
“We’ve got to go out here and get the job done regardless,” LaVine said on a video conference call with reporters Friday. “I don’t think anybody is going to feel bad for us or try to take it easy. We’ve still got to get a job done.”
If the Bucks close out the NBA Finals in Game 6 on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, Middleton, Holiday and Booker could be in Japan by the weekend and potentially practice with the team at least once before the France game. If the Suns win Tuesday, Game 7 would be Thursday night in Phoenix.
“Are they going to have jet lag? Is it going to be like two days later after they land and they’ll be OK?” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said to reporters. “In some ways, it might depend on if everybody else is healthy. If they’re not, they’ve got to play. So we’ve gone over lots of scenarios. We haven’t figured it out yet, that’s for sure.
“We still have a long way to go. And we’ve got another week before we play, so although that’s not a long time ... I think it’s wonderful because we need that time. So hopefully we’ll continue to improve during the week and be ready to play a very good French team.”
Associated Press contributed.