Apr 17 2013 10:14AM

Our NBA 2012-13 Regular Season Ballot

We're shifting from Basketball to BallotBall, folks.

Rock the Vote 2013.

Tell us where we're wrong.

Or better yet, tell us where we're right.

Because it's time to name our picks for the 2012-13 NBA awards.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: 1. LeBron James, Heat; 2. Kevin Durant, Thunder; 3. Tim Duncan, Spurs; 4. Chris Paul, Clippers; 5. James Harden, Rockets. The late, great Wilt Chamberlain won four NBA MVP awards, but unfortunately, he is no longer with us. So when 28-year-old LeBron James accepts his fourth NBA MVP trophy from Commissioner Stern at some future May playoff game, he will become one of only four men living on Planet Earth who have enough Maurice Podoloff Trophies to hold up a makeshift table. How would you like to gather around an MVP roundtable of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and LeBron to hear what they have to say about dominating decades. I can just picture Russell telling LeBron, "Did you know all five of my MVPs came only in years after I won championships? You won three MVPs before you ever got your first ring. The voters must really love you." Then Russell breaks off into his trademark cackle. I then imagine Kareem telling LeBron, "It's a good thing you're younger than D-Wade. They gave me all six MVPs and then suddenly stopped after Magic's rookie year and started giving my trophies to him. He got three in the '80s." And then I imagine Jordan telling LeBron, "Man, when I was your age, I only had two of my five MVP awards. Keep doing what you're doing, young fellow, and you'll pass us all in MVP trophies. But you know what? I got more BRAs than you'll ever have. Six. Six BRAs. You only got one so far. You know what that is, right? That's Bill Russell Awards, what used to be known as NBA Finals MVPs. I got more BRAs than anyone here." Russell: "Now you know that's only because they didn't give that award out in my day." Kareem: "Yeah, Michael. The award's named after Bill after all. Shoot, when are they going to name an award after me? Where's my trophy? Where's my love?" Russell: "Well, Kareem, they're giving all the love to LeBron now." Russell cackles.

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM: Tim Duncan, Spurs; LeBron James, Heat; Kevin Durant, Thunder; James Harden, Rockets; Chris Paul, Clippers.

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; Blake Griffin, Clippers; Paul George, Pacers; Dwyane Wade, Heat; Russell Westbrook, Thunder.

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM: Dwight Howard, Lakers; Paul Millsap, Jazz; Carmelo Anthony, Knicks; Stephen Curry, Warriors; Tony Parker, Spurs.

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DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: 1. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; 2. Tim Duncan, Spurs; 3. Kevin Garnett, Celtics. Marc Gasol is the only man who can physically stop 6-8, 270-pound LeBron James. And by "stop," I mean, the 7-1, 265-pound Gasol is the only man who can stick out his paw and literally stop a fast-breaking LeBron, simply by sticking his tree trunk of an arm into King James' metallic chest and causing a five-player pileup on NBA Lane. I imagine the collision would be best simulated by having a crash-test dummy drive a speeding car into a Sequoia. Yeah, that's the best way to describe the younger, bigger Gasol brother. Not only is he a Grizzly of a bear on defense, but he is as imposing in the key as anything you'll find in Yosemite. Tayshaun Prince once told me, he doesn't guard LeBron. He just guides him to Marc Gasol. The center is that good on defense. That's why the Grizzlies rank second in defensive efficiency. It is why Memphis allows only 95.4 points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the floor, as opposed to the 102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions when he is not on the court. He's a Grizzly, he's a bear, he's a tree, he's freakin' Paul Bunyan, man!

ALL-DEFENSE FIRST TEAM: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; LeBron James, Heat; Paul George, Pacers; Andre Iguodala, Nuggets; MIke Conley, Grizzlies.

ALL-DEFENSE SECOND TEAM: Tim Duncan, Spurs; Serge Ibaka, Thunder; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Tony Allen, Grizzlies; George Hill, Pacers.

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ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: 1. Anthony Davis, Hornets; 2. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers; 3. Andre Drummond, Pistons. Davis started off the season as a Hornet. All the buzz was about the rookie from Kentucky who won an NCAA championship and was going to change the way defense was played in the NBA, blocking three-point shooters with a single-bound from the key, like he did in college. Only, he didn't do that. NBA three-point shooters were farther away. Taller. Quicker. Better. Shoot, Davis even had trouble in the low post just guarding his own player, as grown men took him down low and abused the teenager on the block so bad that I almost called Child Services. Trail Blazer Damian Lillard passed Davis in all the mid-season Rookie of the Year counts, even mine. But then something clicked for the New Orleans 19-year-old power forward. The 6-10, 220-pounder started grasping the game. He stopped being a defensive liability. Chased off the pick-and-roll guard with enough range to get back to his man for the denial. He stopped biting on every low-post pump fake. He earned the trust of Coach Monty Williams, who upped his playing time after the All-Star break--and following his 20th birthday in March--playing the young man 31 minutes per game, as opposed to 28 before the break. Davis' Regularized Statistical Plus Minus rose to +3.72. His Roland Rating rose to -0.2. And in the last week of the season, he swooped down like a Pelican and stole the ROY award from his senior 22-year-old rook Lillard right before Game 82. The storyline seems similar to the script written in the 2012 NCAA championship. Slow start. Left the game with the trophy. The Unibrow strikes again!

ALL-ROOKIE FIRST TEAM: Andre Drummond, Pistons; Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors; Anthony Davis, Hornets; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats; Damian LIllard, Trail Blazers.

ALL-ROOKIE SECOND TEAM: John Henson, Bucks; Jared Sullinger, Celtics; Harrison Barnes, Warriors; Bradley Beal, Wizards; Dion Waiters, Cavaliers.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: 1. Larry Sanders, Bucks; 2. Omer Asik, Rockets; 3. Greivis Vasquez, Hornets. There is this beloved sportswriter named Zach Lowe who cannot help but type LARRY SANDERS! every time he writes Larry Sanders' name. In fact, his tribute is so contagious that now my MacBook Pro automatically types LARRY SANDERS! in caps and exclamation point whenever I start to write his name. It's funny. A year or two ago, most cats didn't even know who Larry Sanders was. In 112 games over his first two NBA seasons, young Sanders never averaged more than 15 minutes per game, even with the Bucks in search of big men with their starter Andrew Bogut being perpetually hurt. The writing was on the wall, however, with lower-cased Sanders tallying 148 blocked shots in those 112 games with limited minutes. So when (former) Coach Scott Skiles and (current) Coach Jim Boylen kicked up LARRY SANDERS!' playing time to 27 minutes per game, the 6-11, 235-pound center responded, averaging 3 blocks, 10 rebounds, in addition to 10 points per game. He won the starting center job. He won the love with a capital L-O-V-E from sportswriters all over America. And he deserves to win the 2012-13 Most Improved Player award, IN MY HUMBLE OPINION!

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SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: 1. Amir Johnson, Raptors; J.R. Smith, Knicks; 3. Kevin Martin, Thunder. Amir Johnson was such a good sixth man that Coach Dwane Casey realized around January that the 25-year-old power forward was actually his best player. He started off the season on the bench--backing up Andrea Bargnani and rookie Jonas Valanciunas--while splitting time with Ed Davis off the bench. But Johnson's play as a sub in 22 minutes per game shone through. So much so that when Bargnani went down with a season-ending injury, Casey kicked Johnson's minutes up and eventually traded off Davis to give the 6-9, 210-pounder more time to shine. He has averaged 33 minutes since January 5, while posting 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game during those 48 contests. Coach Casey eventually gave Johnson the starting job which the Raptor is likely to hold down next season, given his stunning-and-steady +1.95 RSPM. But since Johnson's 43 games off the bench outnumbers his 38 games as starter, he thus qualifies and wins our Sixth Man of the Year vote.
B. Sevald/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
COACH OF THE YEAR: 1. Erik Spoelstra, Heat; 2. Gregg Popovich, Spurs; 3. Kevin McHale, Rockets. This might sound kind of crazy, but I'd rather be judged crazy then considered stupid. Did you know that Phil Jackson has only won one Coach of the Year award? Jackson's teams have won 11 NBA championships, but voters only deemed him a COY once. Back in the day, Red Auerbach won 11 NBA championships as a head coach and he too only got one COY. That's just plain stupid and unfair. I can't stand for that. So do you know what I do now? I pick the previous season's NBA championship boss and put him the driver's seat as the favorite as my current Coach of the Year. As long as that boss doesn't do anything too stupid, he gets my vote. Coach Spo was genius this season, using his NBA Finals lineup of Chris Bosh at center and LeBron James at power forward as the base unit of most lineups in 2012-13. Consequently, Miami has won a franchise-best 65 games (so far) and has dominated the 2012-13 season like no other. So Coach Spo has my vote! Call me what you want, but I ain't gonna be the idiot who never voted for the Heat boss who goes on to win somewhere between one and 11 NBA championships.
Isaac Baldizon/Getty Images Sport
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: 1. Daryl Morey, Rockets; 2. Sam Presti, Thunder; 3. Glen Grunwald, Knicks. Rockets GM Daryl Morey never turned water into wine or fed multitudes with 5-to-7 loaves and two fish. But he did turn a paltry $51 million payroll into a 45- or 46-win playoff team. Talk about bang for buck! The Lakers just spent $130 million on their team and still don't know if they're in the playoffs or not. But that's Morey's story. Knowing the value of dollar, estimating the value of a player and parlaying that knowledge into multiple talents and cap-freeing salary that makes him the natural trading partner for other interested owners. He signed Linsanity author Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $25 million contract. He signed Omer Asik to a similar three-year, $25 million contract. He parlayed assets from previous deals and landed James Harden and signed him to a max deal. He surrounded those players with other finds and provided the coaching staff with analytics to turn this young roster into the smartest offensive team in basketball (they shoot 73 percent of their shots in efficient zones and rank third in free throws made). Morey finally has money to spend in Summer 2013. He wins the Executive of the Year award now. And I predict, Morey will land a big star or two in July and win this same Exec of the Year award next season too.
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