AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Richard Jefferson recently switched to wearing LeBron James' signature Nike sneakers. The choice in footwear didn’t have anything to do with No. 24 on the Cleveland Cavaliers wanting to be like No. 23.
The reason the 35-year-old small forward opted for the LeBrons over the Nike Zoom HyperRevs he had been wearing is function over fashion. Jefferson has been dealing with pain in his left big toe, which recently required a medical injection. The wider, more durable shoe is meant to offer him more protection against reaggravating the injury.
“It’s been injected once and it will be injected again right before All-Star break,” Jefferson told ESPN.com. “So, it’s just one of those things where it’s manageable. It’s affected a little bit but it’s not surgery, it’s not anything. It’s just you’re going to have to deal with it. It’s a pain-tolerance situation.”
Prior to Jefferson's scoring 14 points on 4-for-4 shooting in 23 minutes in Wednesday’s victory over Phoenix, he logged three consecutive DNPs. While it initially appeared that Jefferson might not be a part of new coach Tyronn Lue’s planned rotation, it turns out the rest was needed for his toe injury.
Jefferson jumps off his left leg, and his ability to make plays was being hampered by the toe.
“It is [my lift],” Jefferson said. “It’s more, at 35 I need every bit of quickness and every bit of athleticism. But we’ve been doing different things. I’ve been wearing the LeBrons. I’ve been doing different things -- a wider shoe. Just playing with an insert to try to take some stress and pressure off of it.
“But for the most part, it’s getting more and more manageable. Even just having these couple of games off where I didn’t play, it felt good out there. ... It normally feels good until I jam it, until someone steps on it. Then it throbs for a day and then it gets better.”
The Cavs are considering shutting down Jefferson for another week around the All-Star break to give his toe an extended period to heal.
After he was a heavily relied-upon substitute for James for the first several months of the season, Jefferson’s injury has made Cleveland management recognize the importance of finding another player who can match his “3-and-D” skill set.
As the Feb. 18 trade deadline approaches, identifying players of that ilk is the Cavs’ top priority, a league source told ESPN.com.
If he's healthy, Lue plans to play Jefferson. He recently had a conversation with the 15-year veteran, telling Jefferson he planned to go nine deep on his bench at a minimum.
At this stage of his career, Jefferson has little interest in personal glory. He knew his role would diminish when Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert returned from early-season injuries. He just wants to play as long as he’s able to contribute.
“When we got all of our guys back, it was more of, ‘OK, let’s let Shump [make an impact], let’s get Kyrie [going]. I’ll take a backseat. I’ll play defense. I’ll only take open shots. I don’t need to be super aggressive as these guys try to find their way,’” Jefferson said. “And then obviously there was a coaching change, there was some things dealing with some injuries. Just basically crap that you deal with over the course of the season. So my confidence is pretty good. I’ve been shooting the ball a lot better over probably the last month, month and a half, even before we made the coaching change. It’s just a matter of getting it a little more consistent.”