How Heat’s two-way contract players are experiencing, learning from historic playoff run

Petre Thomas/Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson aren’t able to take part in the playoffs, they’ve still had a front-row seat for the Miami Heat’s historic run as a No. 8 seed.

As part of their two-way contracts with the Heat, Cain and Robinson aren’t eligible to play in the playoffs. But they’ve both been on the bench for all of the Heat’s games during its postseason run to the NBA Finals, traveling with the team and taking part in shootarounds and practices to continue their developmental work as undrafted rookies.

“It’s been great to see this championship level team and being able to recognize the standard and what it means to win,” Cain said ahead of Friday night’s Game 4 of the Finals against the Denver Nuggets at Kaseya Center. “This being my first year, being able to see this and experience this is something that’s going to make me better and I think it’s going to raise my standard for each year because having this feeling of being around this type of environment is unbelievable.”

Cain and Robinson spent a chunk of the season with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. But they both also had their NBA moments this regular season, too.

Cain appeared in 18 games with the Heat, recording 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 shooting from three-point range, five rebounds and two steals in the regular-season finale against the Orlando Magic on April 9. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 22.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in 15 regular-season games with the Skyforce.

Robinson appeared in 31 games with the Heat, serving as the backup center for a six-week stretch leading into the mid-February All-Star break before veteran center Cody Zeller was added to the roster. Robinson (6-10) averaged 18.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, one steal and 1.3 blocks per game in six regular-season games with the Skyforce.

Cain and Robinson were also part of the Skyforce’s playoff run that ended in the Western Conference finals.

“Honestly, it’s crazy, man,” Robinson said. “My first year, having a playoff run in the G League and now having a playoff run here. It’s just a crazy experience to be in and just watch and recognize all the aspects of the game.”

Cain and Robinson can’t be on the court for the Heat’s playoff run, but they’re both learning important lessons from watching the games on the team’s bench.

“From the entire season, I feel like the tone has been the same,” Robinson said. “In pre-practice, it’s the same level of attention to detail that we have even now. I don’t see a drop off or a difference just because we’re in the playoffs. That’s definitely something I recognize, that the whole year has been like that.

“On the court, I would say just the intensity and the wear and tear on the body and how each possession matters and just everything matters, every possession, every effort, every extra effort. It’s not glitz and glamour, but it counts in every way and it will determine if you go on. Just watching that and just trying to apply it to even myself is big for me.”

Current Heat starting guard Gabe Vincent had a similar experience three years ago, when he was on a two-way contract during Miami’s run to the NBA Finals in 2020 in the Disney bubble.

Two-way contract players were eligible to take part in the playoffs that year to provide depth amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Vincent played in just one game that postseason. He instead spent the rest of the time developing behind the scenes and learning from his teammates.

“It just shows me that it’s possible,” Robinson said of Vincent’s road to becoming a playoff starter. “I know it’s possible. But seeing people who have been in my situation helps. I understand that I have a chance. With time, work and patience, that can be me. So just seeing that my peers were in that position and were able to take advantage of it is very uplifting and I’m looking forward to contributing to another championship run after this one.”

But with the start of summer league less than a month away, Cain and Robinson are also just looking forward to playing in games again. Cain and Robinson are both expected to be part of the Heat’s summer league team, which opens its schedule in the California Classic in Sacramento on July 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers’ summer squad.

“My mind is shifting,” Cain said. “I’m preparing for that right now because that will be the next time I get to compete. So that’s what I’m focused on. Of course, focused on getting a ring. But for me personally, I can’t wait for summer league.”