Tonight marks the start of the NBA’s regular season, the first meaningful basketball since the playoffs ended in July.
By Ryan Ford
Three months ago, the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns to win their first NBA Championship since 1971. Tonight, those Bucks will host the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which will tip-off the NBA’s 2021-22 regular season.
After an eventful offseason that included the NBA draft, free agency, and an open dialogue between players and the media about the NBA’s vaccination policy, there are already plenty of storylines that deserve monitoring. Here are some of the more noteworthy stories that NBA fans should keep an eye on as the regular season starts.
It was reported to the Associated Press by an anonymous source in the league office that “around 95%” of NBA players were vaccinated or in the vaccination process, as of September 30th, 2021. The NBA also made it clear that if a player is unvaccinated, they will go through testing far more frequently than those who have received the vaccine, in addition to other restrictions, per NBA.com.
With that being said, there are many players who have remained dug into their stances of remaining unvaccinated. Among those players are the Washington Wizards’ all-star Bradley Beal, the Orlando Magic’s forward Jonathan Isaac, and the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard Kyrie Irving. All three have been consistent in saying that they will not get the vaccine. Unfortunately for Irving, he plays in New York, and local laws will prevent the superstar guard from playing in any home games as long as he’s unvaccinated. As a result, the Nets’ General Manager Sean Marks released this statement on October 12th: “Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant.”
The Golden State Warriors’ forward Andrew Wiggins was also facing similar repercussions as an unvaccinated player who plays his home games in San Francisco, but has since gotten the vaccine. Whether they like it or not, a player's vaccination status plays a major role in how they are able to help their respective teams this season.
Lakers’ Chemistry and Age Experiment
A little over a year ago, the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals, which was played in Orlando due to the pandemic. The season that followed saw a Lakers team, who entered the year as favorites to come out of the West, lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns. Superstar Anthony Davis was banged up for most of the season, and all-time great LeBron James seemed to be finally showing his age with lackluster performances in crucial games of the series.
In an attempt to reload for another championship run, the Lakers made a blockbuster trade to acquire former MVP Russell Westbrook this offseason and signed a long list of veterans including Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Rajon Rondo. This team is undoubtedly talented, but two questions prevail: How will LeBron and Westbrook coexist, considering how similar their play styles are? And, how will a team that was already injury-prone handle the rigors of an 82 game regular season given that the average age of their roster is 31.6 years old?
Despite these questions, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently the favorites to make it out of the West this season, and, at +375, are behind only the Brooklyn Nets (+250) as betting favorites to win the NBA Championship, per Odds Shark.
When and How will the Ben Simmons Circus End?
Once the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks, All-Star Ben Simmons became the scapegoat for yet another disappointing playoff exit. Shortly after, the former no. 1 overall pick requested a trade.
In the months that followed, the leaks coming from Simmons’ camp said that he would sit out the whole season if need be. His relationship with All-NBA center Joel Embiid is strained, and Simmons’ behavior has certainly rubbed his organization and their notoriously harsh fans the wrong way. Another star player demanding out from their team (look no further than James Harden last year) won’t make the relationship between the league and the players’ association any better.
Recent reports are that Simmons will report to the team, per NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, but in what capacity still remains unclear. There’s no doubt that Ben Simmons is a talented player. Any team would be vastly improved if they acquired the star point guard, but trade talks to this point have gone nowhere.
The Sixers went 49-23 last season, which earned them the best record in the Eastern conference. Will Ben Simmons change his tune and help them get back to the playoffs, or have those bridges been burned? However this saga winds up playing out will likely have a huge impact on the league.
Melanie Moyer '22,