Forget the superstars you want to see in this year's NBA Slam Dunk Contest. It doesn't need them or their gimmicks.
Without Blake Griffin in the lineup, there's not much of a chance that anybody's going to dunk over a car again. Without LeBron James, we probably won't see anyone dunk while using a new tablet. But without the potential of cheesy product placement, the contest can get back to what it was in years past: a celebration of the greatest throwdowns in the league.
So who can we expect to compete this year?
A New York Knicks player has won the Slam Dunk Contest four times, tied with the Atlanta Hawks for most of all time, but James "Flight" White could change that this year. White has competed in high-profile slam dunk contests in high school, college and overseas and can dunk from the free-throw line a la Michael Jordan. If he's selected, he immediately becomes the favorite to win based on dunks like this.
The Celtics' Jeff Green should be a candidate to compete in this year's contest based on his willingness to throw down only a year after major heart surgery. Green, who could be the first Celtic to win the contest since Gerald Green in 2007, has been coming into his own for Boston as of late. He may have punched his ticket back in November with this dunk over Al Jefferson.
Golden State rookie Harrison Barnes is another name that deserves a look for the contest based on body of work. Barnes has been one of the top-two names on NBA.com's Dunk Ladder since late November, when this jam against Minnesota fired up the entire Warriors bench. With 31 dunks this season, Barnes ranks in the top 50 in the league.
But with three players somewhat obvious choices, the NBA would be well-served to reach into the past for a fourth. The return of Philadelphia swingman Jason Richardson to the All-Star stage would be a welcome sight. The 2002 and 2003 winner, Richardson still has the hops to put on a show, as this open-court 360 slam proves. Plus, a cagey dunking veteran taking on some younger players would make for a great storyline.
If this is this year's lineup, what can we expect to see from the competitors?
Don't be shocked if White throws down at least one from the foul line. For one, Michael Jordan's 50th birthday is during All-Star Weekend; but also, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Jordan's epic Slam Dunk Contest battle with Dominique Wilkins that ended with the iconic foul line dunk that gave Jordan the victory.
Barnes will play in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, meaning he's already going to be hanging out in Houston. He could easily call on teammate David Lee, an All-Star selection this year, for some help in the contest; Green, with Kevin Garnett, could easily do the same.
But if this year's lineup includes Richardson, expect him to pull off the most outrageous moves in the contest. A 10-year span between Slam Dunk Contest victories would be simply unheard of, but a player like Richardson is in it to win it. And if he wants to win it, another 360 spin move over a high-profile teammate—let's say Andrew Bynum—would probably be enough to do it.
Maybe he could take Bynum's awful hair off of his head in the process to reveal that it was only a wig. The Sixers can only wish they could remove Bynum from their roster so easily, but at least a Slam Dunk Contest victory would give the team some bragging rights.
But a 32-year-old winning the Slam Dunk Contest? You heard it here first.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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