MIAMI — For more than a month, Cole Swider has been running alongside the Miami Heat’s latest set of developmental prospects, through drill work and scrimmages at Kaseya Center.
But to the forward who went undrafted out of Syracuse in 2022, the feeling is more that he is running alongside Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, Orlando Robinson and all those who previously have made good with such Heat opportunities.
“It was a big part of my decision-making process,” Swider told the South Florida Sun Sentinel after 5-on-5 scrimmaging on the Heat’s practice court. “There were a lot of teams that were interested. And a lot of ’em were interested in the same thing the Heat were interested in, an Exhibit 10 (tryout contract) and the opportunity to earn a two-way or a roster spot.
“But the success with the Heat with those guys gave me an easy decision, in terms of they’re going to give you a real opportunity in training camp, they’re going to give you real opportunities to get on the floor and play through mistakes and make the team.”
With that, Swider mentioned the previously undrafted prospects who converted their summer sweat into the Heat’s developmental pipeline.
He also spoke of the opportunity at hand, with Vincent and Strus turning that Heat sweat equity into lucrative free-agency contracts this offseason with, respectively, the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
For Swider, who spent last season on a two-way contract with the Lakers — an opportunity that was limited to G League time outside of seven appearances in a Lakers uniform — what he does best very well could wind up being what the Heat need most.
In addition to losing the 3-point shooting of Vincent and Strus, the Heat also face the possibility of having to part with some combination of Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro in a potential trade for Damian Lillard.
In 27 appearances last season with the Lakers’ G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, Swider had shooting splits of .506 from the field, .436 on 3-pointers and .838 from the foul line.
“I think being a great shooter — I think I’m one of the best shooters in the word — to be able to get your foot in the door by having that skill is something that a lot of NBA teams need, NBA teams want nowadays,” he said. “I think any team that loses shooting, they’re trying to replace that.”
To that end, Swider has found himself working through drills in situations where Strus and Robinson previously had been cast, as Heat President Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and others have monitored the summer work conducted by video coordinator Dan Bisaccio.
“Because of the type of guys like me in the past, they know how to use guys like me,” Swider, 24, said. “When I do something in pickup that looks like Duncan or Max or Gabe, they know how to use me in a game. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this only works in pickup.’ We play a lot of zone; I played a lot of zone in college.”
Like Vincent and Strus, Swider is trying to make a breakthrough after a previous NBA trial with another franchise. The Heat signed Strus after he was with the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. Vincent was signed after playing for the Sacramento Kings’ G League affiliate.
Although the Heat are at the offseason maximum of 21 players under contract, two open spots remain on the standard roster. Plus, although all three of the Heat’s two-way slots have been filled (Jamaree Bouyea, Jamal Cain and Dru Smith), those contracts can be swapped out for other players at any time.
“Being able to do other things on the court obviously helps you stay out on the court,” he said. “I think I’m a really good rebounder. I averaged 6.8 rebounds a game in college, and also averaged six rebounds in the summer league. So I think I can rebound at a high level. I think I have a really good understanding of the game, as well, so I can play with star players, and be a guy like a Max Strus, playing off of Jimmy and Bam and the other great players on our team, Tyler.
“So I’m excited to show those things, but, at the same time, knowing that I am out there to be a specialist, an elite shooter, a Duncan Robinson, Max Strus prototype.”