Aaron Gordon should skip Dunk Contest, even if it leaves Orlando Magic out of All-Star Weekend

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon appears set to return to the dunk contest this year. (Photo by Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon appears set to return to the dunk contest this year. (Photo by Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Aaron Gordon appears slated to participate in the Dunk Contest yet again. With his injuries and struggles this year, he should consider sitting out.

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon had big plans for the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest.

He wowed the world and became the “People’s Champion” with his jaw-dropping 2016 performance in the dunk contest, going one on one with Zach LaVine until the broadcast simply ran out of time and they had to find a way to end the contest. Everyone wanted more.

Aaron Gordon was alone this time trying to get the trophy that even his teammates — including former Dunk Champion Terrence Ross — said he did not really need. He was already established as one of the best dunkers in the league.

He wanted that trophy and he wanted to put on a show again at that next All-Star Game.

Things did not go as planned. He had an ingenious idea to drop a ball from a drone hovering over him and do a trick, but he could not pull it off. He could not repeat the magic that overtook him that February night in Toronto. He was eliminated after two dunks, leaving Gordon shaking his head on the bench afterward.

He was not any worse of a dunker — by some reports, he pulled off all the dunks in practice and had bigger things planned for the second round — but he just was not there that night.

Gordon would later say he did not have the chance to prepare properly for the event. A dunk contest, in his estimation, takes two weeks of practice to pull off at the level he did in 2016. And in the run-up to that All-Star Weekend, Gordon was nursing a nagging ankle injury. He clearly entered that weekend less than 100-percent healthy.

Gordon has flirted with returning to the dunk contest plenty of times. Everyone wants to see him back there. With the All-Star Game in Chicago this year, everyone wanted to see a rematch with Zach LaVine in the same city of the legendary 1988 Dunk Contest showdown between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.

LaVine may not participate this year, but Gordon is reportedly set to give the contest a third try.

Aaron Gordon would reportedly join Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard are rumored competitors for two weeks from Saturday. The official list of competitors will be announced Tuesday.

That does sound like an enticing dunk contest. And with Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier unlikely to get named as reserves — they probably will not be the first alternates either despite Orlando sitting in playoff position — Aaron Gordon might potentially be the only Magic representative at All-Star Weekend.

Perhaps the league will invite Markelle Fultz to compete in the Skills Competition on All-Star Saturday night, but that is not particularly clear.

Magic fans should be prepared to have no representatives at All-Star Weekend.

And that would be a good thing. Considering how this season has gone and the work this team still has to do, getting a full weekend off would not be the worst thing for the team to get their minds right.

That goes double for Gordon. He should not give the dunk contest a go this year. There are just too many important things to prepare for in the final run of the season.

The same elements that slowed Gordon down for that dunk contest in 2017 are present here. Except this time, the Magic are not eliminated from the playoffs. He has a slate of meaningful games he needs to be fresh and prepared for.

Gordon has dealt with injuries throughout this season. He took a shot to the jaw in preseason and missed a week of practice and games in October. He sprained his ankle in November and had to miss three games then.

He might have returned too quickly from that as he complained of some calf, Achilles and ankle soreness, mentioning after a game in Denver that he was still feeling pain from that injury.

Gordon sat out an additional two games a few weeks later. The injury appears to have cleared up — he is no longer listed on the Magic’s injury report.

It has undoubtedly been a disappointing season for Gordon. He is averaging just 13.3 points per game and shooting a career-low 41.3 percent from the floor. Orlando hoped that Gordon would be ready to step up to play in the big game Sunday.

That dream is certainly extinguished now. But the Magic still find themselves in playoff position, unlike in 2016 and 2017. They hold a 2.5 games lead on the Chicago Bulls for that final playoff spot and are fighting the Brooklyn Nets for seventh.

That is another big difference between Gordon now and Gordon in those dunk contests. Back then, being in the dunk contest was a pinnacle for the team. A chance for them to gain some national relevance and have something to get excited about for the last push of the season.

Now, there are games to look forward to and a postseason to prepare for.

If Gordon puts in as much work to these dunk contests as he suggests, that is attention pulled away from the season. And more importantly, that is energy pulled away from the season while he is ostensibly still trying to keep himself healthy.

The Magic need a focused and healthy Gordon for this playoff run.

Despite his struggles this season, Gordon is still a vital player. Especially as a defender without Jonathan Isaac in the lineup. Orlando needs Gordon as close to 100 percent healthy to make this playoff push.

With the injuries he has suffered this year, getting that time to reset the battery seems a whole lot more valuable than the quick pop of participating in the dunk contest and the national notoriety that might come with it.

Obviously, Gordon might have some personal business interests involved in being in the dunk contest. If he wants to do the dunk contest, he should absolutely have the freedom to do it.

But Orlando needs Gordon for something bigger. This team wants to establish itself as a regular playoff team (doing more will be a question left for the summer). Gordon, despite his struggles, is still vital to that.

If Gordon is feeling any lingering effects of his injury or any kind of fatigue, the dunk contest is not the right path for him.

Next. Orlando Magic facing identity crisis at season crossroads. dark

He should skip this one out, even if he is healthy enough and eager to win it.