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Richard Jefferson retired, unretired and then dunked all over the Warriors on Christmas

Cleveland must be glad RJ changed his mind.

Richard Jefferson said he was retiring 6 months ago. Cavs fans are sooo happy he didn't!

Posted by SB Nation on Sunday, December 25, 2016

Richard Jefferson could be retired right now, taking his $109 million career earnings to Cabo and watching the NBA’s Christmas Day games from the beach. He said that was his plan in the heat of the moment after last year’s finals, announcing his retirement on Fox Sports Ohio in the postgame locker room.

Not even days later, Jefferson hinted that his proclamation might have been premature, egging on a crowd of championship parade goers by saying, "If you guys want me to play one more year, I'll play one more year." And so here he is, signing a two-year deal with Cleveland over the summer, playing 29 minutes against the Golden State Warriors and dunking all over them.


Those were the only two shots the 36-year-old Jefferson hit all game, but they were both huge fourth-quarter moments as the Cavaliers completed a 14-point fourth quarter comeback against Golden State. They highlight how important Jefferson is coming off the Cavaliers bench. Aren’t you glad he didn’t end up retiring and watching this game while sipping Mai Tais? Cleveland definitely is.

Richard Jefferson’s transition to a role player extends longer than Cleveland.

You probably didn’t hear much about RJ after he was a marquee free agent signing by the San Antonio Spurs and ended up disappointing them there for three years. Even there, where some Spurs fans still hate him, the secret about Jefferson is that he wasn’t ever bad. But for the money the Spurs were paying him at the time, they expected more, like Jefferson had shown at the peak of his days with the Nets.

Once the expectations were tempered appropriately, Jefferson quietly became a fantastic player off anyone’s bench. He was alright for Golden State after being shipped there by the Spurs at the trade deadline in 2011-12, although he didn’t play much the following year. But in Utah the next year, Jefferson played all 82 games, started 78 of them and was fantastic, averaging about 10 points on 45 percent shooting from the floor and 41 percent behind the line. The next year with Dallas, Jefferson’s minutes fell but he was the same, consistent 3-and-D player, shooting well behind the arc while surprising everyone with his bounce off the dribble.

Jefferson had actually agreed to return to the Mavericks that following offseason, but Mark Cuban agreed to let him out of that agreement after the DeAndre Jordan debacle left Dallas floundering. And you can’t blame Jefferson for his chance to end up in Cleveland, where he fell into the same role simply playing steady basketball by hitting catch-and-shoot jumpers, surprising opponents off the dribble, and using his strength on defense, even if he doesn’t have the quickest legs anymore.

Jefferson can do this for a few more years, at least.

It’s really up to RJ how much longer he wants to stick around, but it would be hard to see him end his career anywhere but Cleveland at this point. It’s a situation that makes too much sense — a steady veteran who has already acquired his money, who is loved in the locker room (see his Snapchat antics), and happy to play a small role at the minimum.

In many ways, his career parallels former teammate Vince Carter. The duo formed the high-flying wing with the New Jersey Nets during the middle of the 2000s, but both have adapted to roles as bench players just as easily. Carter is still going with the Memphis Grizzlies at 39 (and he’ll turn 40 in January), so Jefferson has no excuse. He finally won his ring after an empty trip his first year in the league, but the Cavaliers are clearly a team that could win another one. Jefferson has said he might play two to three more years, even.

We love storybook endings and no one would have faulted Jefferson for going out on top last summer. But isn’t it great that he didn’t, if only so he can keep dunking over the Warriors at age 36?