2021 NBA Media Day: Ben Simmons’ absence, Kyrie Irving’s vaccine controversy among top 10 storylines
Ahead of the upcoming 2021-22 season, teams across the NBA held Media Day on Monday, and as expected, there was no shortage of intrigue. It may have been difficult to keep up with all of the news, quotes and information that trickled out over the course of the day, but fear not — we’ve got you covered. Here’s a look at the 10 biggest storylines from Media Day.
1. Beal shares his reasons for remaining unvaccinated
Vaccination status of players was a hot topic around the league’s landscape on Media Day. Some players took the “no comment” approach, while others — like Wizards star Bradley Beal — were more open. Beal, who had to forgo his spot on the Olympic men’s basketball team over the summer due to contracting COVID-19, revealed that he remains unvaccinated for “personal reasons.”
“I don’t think you can pressure anybody into doing things, or putting things in their body,” Beal said, while also questioning the merit of the vaccine. “I would ask the question to those who are getting vaccinated, ‘why are you still getting COVID?,” Beal added. “…You can still get COVID and still pass it along it vaccinated.”
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The NBA isn’t requiring players to get vaccinated, so Beal isn’t breaking any rules. However, unvaccinated players will be subject to a much stricter set of health and safety protocols compared to their vaccinated peers. Also, Beal runs the risk of having to miss games, and in turn hurt his team, if he’s forced into the league’s health and safety protocols.
2. Irving requests privacy when it comes to his vaccination status
While Beal was open about his vaccination status, Nets guard Kyrie Irving took a different approach. Due to New York City’s COVID-19 regulations, Irving had to participate in Media Day remotely via Zoom. When asked about his status, he declined to answer and instead requested privacy.
“I would like to keep all that private,” Irving said. “Please just respect my privacy. Like, at all the questions kind of leading into what’s happening, you know, just, please, everything will be released at a new date, once we get this cleared up. But as of right now, just please respect my privacy regarding anything on home games, what’s happening, vaccination. Please.”
Irving’s vaccination status is of major interest to everyone involved with the Nets given the fact that he will not be able to play in home games in Brooklyn if he is unvaccinated due to New York City’s requirements. He still has plenty of time to get vaccinated before the season starts and avoid any issues. If he doesn’t, the Nets will have to prepare to be without his services every time they play at home.
3. Sixers show support for Simmons amid his Media Day absence
Ben Simmons’ absence was the main talking point at Media Day in Philadelphia, and all the players on the team, including Joel Embiid, expressed a desire to see Simmons back in Philadelphia. Embiid, who said that he and Simmons became closer last season than ever before, stated that he is disappointed with the situation as a whole, but not with Simmons personally.
“If I didn’t like playing with him, I’m honest I would say it,” Embiid said. “I love playing with him because he adds so much to our team. We’ve been building this team around us. … I’m just disappointed that he’s not here.” Sixers forward Tobias echoed Embiid’s comments.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Harris added. “So him not going to be here, it is disappointing. But like I said to guys on the team, to all of us, he’s still part of our team, Ben is still part of our team, he’s still got 15 guys in that locker room, probably seven or eight who played with him last year, that’s still his brother, and he’s still our brother as well. So we hope the situation could get resolved.”
Up and down the roster, the other Sixers players who have a history with Simmons expressed a similar sentiment.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that he is still extremely high on Simmons as a player:
It’s clear that Simmons still has some serious support within the Sixers organization. The question is if that will be enough to ultimately get him to alter his current stance and re-join the team.
4. Embiid gives update on knee, discloses potential tweak to his game
In addition to discussing Simmons, Embiid also provided an injury update on his knee. The big man suffered a right meniscus tear during the postseason that he was ultimately able to play through. Heading into the ’21-22 season, Embiid doesn’t expect the knee to be an issue. “It’s been fine,” Embiid said of his knee. “I’ve just been working out all summer. It’s been fine, no problems. I’m getting back to where I was and I feel pretty good.”
In addition to providing an update on his health, Embiid also revealed a slight tweak that we might see in his game next season — an uptick in 3-point attempts.
“This year I’m thinking about shooting more 3s,” Embiid added in the midst of a longer quote about Ben Simmons. “Because that’s what is going to help the team. Last year I thought it helped us because we didn’t shoot a lot of 3s. People might have different views in that, but I think it goes a long way, so that’s something I’m going to do.”
For reference, Embiid attempted a career-low three 3s per game last season and converted those attempts at a career-high 37 percent clip.
5. Pelicans reveal Williamson had foot surgery over offseason
Pelicans vice president David Griffin dropped a bit of a bomb on Monday when he revealed that Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson underwent surgery to repair a fractured foot earlier in the offseason. The injury and resulting surgery were previously unreported. The good news for Pelicans fans is that the team is optimistic Williamson will be good to go for the start of the regular season.
“Zion is returning from a foot surgery suffered at the beginning of summer — well the beginning of summer isn’t exactly accurate, but earlier in the offseason prior to summer league,” Griffin said. “He had a fractured right foot that was repaired surgically. His timeline should get him on the court in time for the regular season.
“That would be our hope and our view. We’re very optimistic about what that looks like. Unfortunately, I know that’s going to be taken as a very big negative for all of you. It’s really not for us because we were dealing with it all offseason. We feel very confident about where things are.”
It doesn’t sound like the Pelicans are too concerned about the injury at all, but this is still something to keep an eye on as the season approaches given Williamson’s importance to the team.
6. Curry, Warriors teammates weigh in on Wiggins’ vaccine status
Like New York City, San Francisco also has vaccine mandates in place. That means that Warriors players won’t be able to play in home games if unvaccinated. At this point in time, forward Andrew Wiggins remains unvaccinated, and he discussed that decision at Media Day.
“I’m confident in my beliefs and what I think is right and what I think is wrong,” Wiggins said. “I’m gonna keep doing what I believe. … What’s right for one person isn’t right for another. It’s none of your business is what it comes down to. I don’t ask you guys what you believe is right or wrong.”
Wiggins’ Warriors teammates remained diplomatic when discussing his status, while expressing optimism that he will ultimately be available for the team.
“At the end of the day, it is up to him,” Stephen Curry said. “It’s no secret to that point. We obviously hope that he has all the right information, the access to the right resources to ask all the questions he has on making that decision. We hope he’s available. We hope he moves in the right direction.
“My opinion is, obviously I got [vaccinated] and am ready to be available and following the mandates and what not. But that’s kind of where it is, and in the next coming weeks and how it all plays out is gonna be entirely up to him. We obviously hope he’s available and with us, and kind of go from there.”
Like Irving, Wiggins still has time to get vaccinated and not be forced to miss any game action. Now, the ball is in his court (pun intended).
7. Thompson moving closer to return to action
In other Warriors news, general manager Bob Myers provided an update on Klay Thompson, who has missed the past two seasons in their entirety due to injury issues. Thompson will miss the start of the upcoming season as well, as Myers pointed to “maybe January” as a potential return date. The Warriors are clearly going to be patient with Thompson after such a long layoff. The next step for Thompson is to start playing 5-on-5, and then the team will go from there. The good news for Warriors fans is that Thompson said he plans to get back to being the same player that he was before the injuries.
Clearly Thompson hasn’t forgotten how to shoot:
The eventual return of the Splash Brothers is one of the more exciting aspects of the upcoming season.
8. Kawhi won’t give timetable on return after offseason knee surgery
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard underwent knee surgery in July to repair a partially torn right ACL that sidelined him for L.A.’s final eight playoff games. On Monday, Leonard, who signed a four-year deal with the Clippers over the offseason, provided a mild update on the knee. “[I’m] just working with the staff day-to-day,” Leonard said. “When that available date comes, we’ll be ready for it, and it’ll be out in the public.”
In the meantime, the Clippers clearly have no plans of rushing him back to game action.
“I hope he comes back Oct. 21 [for the opener],” Clippers head coach Ty Lue said. “But the reality is he’s not going to be ready then. We don’t want to force him or put any pressure on him. We want to make sure he’s rehabbing, doing everything he can to get back as soon as possible, and if that’s next season, that’s next season.”
9. Giannis ‘not even close to being satisfied’ after NBA title
Milwaukee Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo may be reigning NBA Finals MVP, but he isn’t interested in resting on his laurels.
“Are we satisfied? I’m not satisfied. I’m not even close to being satisfied,” Antetokounmpo said on Monday. “That’s the tone we got to set as a team. As the leader of this team, that’s the tone I’m going to set. We understand that teams are coming for us, but we’re going to be ready.
“Right now what I want is to get better,” Antetokounmpo added. “I don’t care about trophies. I don’t care about the MVPs. I don’t care about Defensive Player of the Years. All those things, I don’t care. I care about getting better because if I do that more things are coming.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Bucks can win a second straight title, but one thing is for sure: An improving Antetokounmpo is a scary thought for the rest of the league.
10. Young gets WWE belt
Hawks star guard Trae Young made a special guest appearance on “WWE Smackdown” earlier this month, and apparently the WWE was pretty impressed with his performance. So impressed, they gifted Young his own championship belt on Media Day.
Given how well he’s embraced the heel role in the NBA, it’s not surprising that he fits in well in the world of WWE.