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How the Cleveland Cavaliers' free agent signings could create more depth issues

Depth was a weakness for the Cavaliers all throughout last season. This year, it may again be an issue.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Last summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed three players to fill out depth on the roster after LeBron James returned to the team. Mike Miller, James Jones, and Shawn Marion were three veterans who signed to cheap contracts in order to chase a ring with LeBron and try to provide shooting and perimeter defense on the wing.

The results of these signings were mostly negative. Jones shocked everyone by playing significant minutes several times throughout the season, and for his limitations, he played pretty well, even though he was often miscast as a string bean small-ball four. But Miller was downright awful last year, shooting a career-low 32.7 percent from three, and Marion, though he played pretty well defensively in the first half of the season, was constantly bothered by injuries and retired after the season. The result, as we all know, was a seven-man rotation in the finals with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving injured, and Jones being the only one of those three signings to play any significant role.

This summer, depth is again an issue. Miller and Jones are returning, but the Cavs still have to try to re-sign Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, and J.R. Smith, and we don't know if Anderson Varejao will actually come back healthy. The Cavs' cap sheet is pretty horrendous, and the team didn't have many avenues despite the veteran minimum and Brendan Haywood's Contract to try to add depth. Because of this, the Cavs have made two signings to attempt to fill depth. Mo Williams has returned on a one-year, $2.1 million deal, and Richard Jefferson was picked up on Tuesday. And while FTS' Chris Manning and Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball  have offered positive reviews of both of these players here and here, but there's a major chance that the Cavs could have expounded their depth issue with these signings.

We all know what peak Williams can do. He had his best years playing with LeBron in Cleveland, and his 52-point game with Minnesota last year deserves to be set to Ginuwine's Pony. He's historically been a good three-point shooter, acceptable distributor, and we know he can play off LeBron in a similar role to Kyrie when LeBron brings the ball off.

However, Williams will turn 33 in December, and he definitely has slipped a bit in the last two seasons. Playing with the Trail Blazers, Timberwolves, and Hornets the last two seasons, Williams has had mostly hit-or-miss play. His three-point shooting has regressed, from 38.7 percent combined during the 2011-12 and 12-13 seasons, to 36.9 percent in 13-14, and then to 34.2 percent this past season. This is partially a result of a change in volume, as Williams has taken more threes than his career average the last two years, and you'd expect a shooting percentage to go down a couple percentage points when he is taking shots at near 1.5 times his normal rate. However, this is indicative of the primary problem with Williams offensively; part of what made him effective at his peak was his ability to get to the rim, and he's stopped doing that, taking only 6.7 percent of his shots inside three feet last season. He's just jacking shots from outside, and while he has had moments, such as the 52-point game and his first few weeks after his trade to the Hornets, it's overall made him less effective as he's transitioned to the backup point guard role.

Another point that could make Williams infuriating this season is his tendency to hijack the offense and take bad shots. At his peak, he certainly played smarter than he has the past two seasons, and Williams goes rouge much in the same way Jarrett Jack does, meaning he's very prone to breaking the offense and jacking up contested threes and long twos. I mean, this isn't great:

That's my main concern with Williams. Kyrie, LeBron, and even Smith are good enough shooters to break the offense and turn Isos into pull-up jumpers. Williams isn't anymore, and just like the last two seasons, Williams might infuriate Cavs fans with poor shot selection. And that's before we get to his defense, which has always been subpar, and isn't going to get better as he ages.

Jefferson showed use for the Mavericks last year, hitting 42.6 percent of his threes and being a competent defender as a backup. He's resurrected his career a bit after a few bad years in San Antonio and Golden State, and is probably a safer bet than Marion was or Jones will be this season to be able to play minutes as a small-ball four next to LeBron, and do so effectively. However, he's also 35, and now the oldest player on the team, and as we saw with Mike Miller last year, the drop-off could come at any time for Jefferson, who's logged 34,000 NBA minutes (including playoffs). Jefferson also is prone to hijacking the offense, as well, and as Cato mentioned in his analysis, Jefferson is a lot more confident in his ability to attack off the dribble than his actual ability allows him to be. If he's a spot-up shooter, that's fine, because he can be effective that way. But as with other players who spent time as a top scoring option and are now role players, he can get outside of his abilities at times, which can make him frustrating.

Jefferson and Williams could work out well for the Cavs, easily. That's the thing with veterans - you trade in talent and potential health for experience and basketball IQ. Jefferson's always been a smart player who can be mostly reliable, and Mo has a relationship with LeBron, which always helps team chemistry. However, as we've seen with the Los Angeles Clippers, a bench of experienced veterans can become a bench of unavailable bodies very quickly. After J.R. and Dellavedova, the two bench guys expected to play the largest roles on the team aside from Thompson if they re-sign, the five next guys down the bench will be 32, 34, 34, 35, and 33 when the season starts. And if Irving and/or Love get hurt again, the Cavs will be relying on way too many guys on the wrong side of 30, including guys in Williams, Varejao and Miller who are already slipping to varying degrees, to play major roles.

While it's a given in the NBA that young guys aren't helpful on championship rosters, there have been plenty of guys in the age 26-28 range, with NBA experience, who could probably give more reliable and steady production. Guys like Gigi Datome, Marcus Thornton, and Lance Thomas are still available, and while their ceiling is lower than guys like Jefferson and Williams, the likelihood of guys like that staying healthy and potentially improving is much, much higher. While these signings are ultimately understandable, given what we saw last season from the veterans the Cavs relied on to play roles, and the health questions on the team, the Cavs could very well have painted themselves into a corner with depth once again.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify a statement about the age of the players on the bench. Before, the bench did not include Tristan Thompson when talking about the Cavs' bench when Thompson will certainly will be a big part of the Cavs' bench.