NBA's 75th season: 5 storylines to follow as games begin Tuesday

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Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James drives past Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
LeBron James is expected to lead the Lakers back to the NBA Finals, but will Kyrie Irving be part of the Nets' expected run to the championship series? (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

The NBA will celebrate its 75th season shrouded by the saga that is Kyrie Irving and his COVID-19 vaccination status as well as the drama between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.

When the league premiered “NBA Lane,” a short film commemorating its storied history of legends to its current iconic players, they all had one thing in common: Overcoming whatever roadblocks that stood in their way of trying to win the NBA championship.

With the Irving's and Simmons' narratives still unfolding, here are five NBA storylines to follow this season:

1. Kyrie … Kyrie … Kyrie …

The Nets' All-Star guard went on Instagram Live last week to say he still hopes to play for Brooklyn this season but has decided not to take the COVID-19 vaccination shot. He said he’s not pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, explaining that “this is about my life and what I am choosing to do.”

New York’s COVID-19 vaccination protocols require that only vaccinated people are allowed at various public indoor activities. A player in the New York market has to have at least one vaccination shot to practice or play in the city.

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said the team wasn’t going to allow Irving to join the team until he gets at least one vaccine shot.

According to reports, the NBA and players’ association agreed to a reduction in pay of 1/91.6% of salary for each game an unvaccinated player misses because of local COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Irving would lose $380,000 per game if he’s not able to play.

Irving said on Instagram that “I’m not retiring.”

2. Ben Simmons: Will he stay or go?

After saying he didn’t want to play for the 76ers and wasn’t going to show up to training camp, he finally showed up to camp.

It makes one wonder if money had anything to do with his decision. The 76ers had put $8.25 million due Simmons in escrow. His fines for missing games and practices could be taken from that amount.

Simmons, who has four years left on his contract worth about $147 million, is with the team working on his conditioning. The 76ers have said they’d like to keep the 25-year-old All-Star forward.

The teams that had reached out to the 76ers said Philadelphia was asking for too much to trade Simmons, and the teams don’t believe Philadelphia has that leverage any more to get a big haul.

Stay tuned.

3. Can Lakers win it all?

According to 80% of NBA executives polled during an NBA.com survey, the Lakers will reach the NBA Finals before losing to the just-as-talented Brooklyn Nets.

For the Lakers, it’ll be about making it fit on a deep roster, keeping egos in check and playing better defense than most pundits think they can.

They have 11 new players on their 14-man roster, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker returning.

They’ve added the dynamic Russell Westbrook, with many believing that the triple-double machine will have to make the most changes to his game to make their Big 3 work.

They’ve brought back Dwight Howard for a third tour of duty and added Carmelo Anthony, two players with strong personalities.

They have nine players over 30 and six at least 35 or older, so age will be a topic of concern all season.

4. Why a lack of love for the champs?

Don’t the Milwaukee Bucks have one of the league’s top-five players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the top two-way players in Jrue Holiday, an All-Star in Khris Middleton and some really good complementary pieces?

Maybe it’s because many feel the Bucks were lucky to win the title and it was their time last season when many top contenders were missing star players to injury.

Regardless, the Bucks still have a very good team.

5. Can the Nets win it all without Irving?

Irving can’t practice or play in a game in Brooklyn because he’s hasn’t met New York’s COVID-19 mandate that requires a player to have at least one vaccination shot to participate in indoor practices or game.

Still, many NBA executives in the NBA.com survey believe the Nets will win the title because they still have the nearly unstoppable Kevin Durant and the lethal James Harden.

It’s just that it will be tough task to undertake if the uber-talented Irving remains a distraction for the Nets all season.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.