WEDNESDAY, 11:08am: The NBA has officially announced Gasol as Defensive Player of the Year. LeBron James was the runner-up, followed by Ibaka and Noah.
MONDAY, 3:12pm: Marc Gasol will be named Defensive Player of the Year for the 2012/13 NBA season, according to Chris Vernon of 92.9 FM ESPN in Memphis (via Twitter). An official announcement will likely come later this week.
Award season started for the NBA today, when J.R. Smith was officially named the Sixth Man of the Year. The Defensive Player of the Year field was considered fairly wide open, with a number of deserving candidates based on both traditional and more advanced statistics. When I asked earlier this month who deserved the award, Gasol received fewer votes than Larry Sanders, Joakim Noah, and Serge Ibaka.
Gasol, who averaged 7.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG, and 1.0 SPG this season for the Grizzlies, didn't have exceptional traditional stats. However, he anchored a Memphis defense that ranked second in the NBA in points per 100 possessions (97.4), and the team's defensive numbers were noticeably better when he was on the court.
There aren't very many games left in the regular season, and the playoff picture in both conferences could look drastically different by mid-April with plenty of teams close together in the standings as of today. While it's not usual for us to focus on injuries, we have a few significant notes worth mentioning tonight:
Amid speculation that the Grizzlies are looking to trade Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer reports (via Twitter) that guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol recently met with new owner Robert Pera, where the two players reportedly urged him to keep the team's core together at least through this season.
Herrington also tweets that Grizzlies management knows it has to move either Gay or Randolph to preserve their long-term flexibility and avoid luxury tax penalties. He believes the meeting with Conley and Gasol was simply to take their pulse about the season and roster.
According to a new report from Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, LeBron James is open to the possibility of returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers if he chooses to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat after the 2013/14 season. Lloyd writes that James is friends with Cavs players Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, and his new agent, Rich Paul, has local ties.
Lloyd adds, however, that Cavs GM Chris Grant is aware that the team must improve considerably in order to be considered a viable option for James. Grant is reportedly aggressively exploring options to add another impact player. Lloyd reports that Grant asked about trading an Anderson Varejao-based package for Kevin Love following Love's recent comments critical of the Timberwolves, but was rebuffed. He has also inquired on the possibility of trading for the Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge, the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, and the Lakers' Pau Gasol.
Lloyd writes that although the Cavs are still open to moving Varejao, who is having an outstanding season, it doesn't seem likely because his recent play has raised their asking price and no team thus far has been willing to meet their demands. A trade of Varejao to the Thunder for Perry Jones III, Jeremy Lamb, and Toronto's protected 2013 first-round draft pick has been discussed, but both sides have concerns about the players they would get back.
The Southwest Division should again be one of the league's toughest this season, with the Spurs, who've won the division twice in a row, bringing back their key parts and the playoff-tested Grizzlies doing the same. The Mavericks made plenty of changes but still figure to be in the playoff mix as long as Dirk Nowitzki is around, and the Hornets brought in No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, 2011/12 Most Improved Player Award winner Ryan Anderson, and others. The Rockets appear to be the division's soft spot, but they could be in the mix for a marquee player closer to the trade deadline with their stockpile of youth and draft picks. Here's the latest, with preseason on the horizon: