No two ways about it: Heat approaching decisions on Swider, Cain, Williams

MIAMI — The track record not only had spoken for itself, but had spoken volumes. The Miami Heat’s investment in two-ways contracts had become a pipeline of success.

And then the pipeline ran dry.

Which leaves question of where Pat Riley and the Heat front office turn next amid their work at this week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.

Duncan Robinson went on from a two-way contract in 2018-19 to become one of the NBA’s elite 3-point shooters. Max Strus and Gabe Vincent went from such Heat contracts in 2020-21 to playoff success and then free-agency riches. Caleb Martin arrived on a similar deal the following season and now also is about to cash in during free agency.

But since Martin, the two-way well mostly has run dry, with the aforementioned net gains followed by two-way contracts for Marcus Garrett, Kyle Guy, Javonte Smart, Mychal Mulder, Orlando Robinson, Dru Smith, Jamal Cain, R.J. Hampton, Cole Swider and Alondes Williams.

Now the question becomes whether the Heat bring back Cain, Swider and Williams, the three who ended the just-completed season on two-way contracts, or turn in different directions.

Teams are limited to three such players at a time under contract, on contracts that pay half the veteran minimum and are limited to 50 games per season on the active roster (out of the 82). Cain, Swider and Williams all are eligible to be re-upped on such deals, which are limited to players with three or fewer seasons of NBA experience.

Of the three, Swider appears most wanted and willing.

“It’s been an amazing process,” said Swider, 25, the 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Syracuse and spent 2022-23 on a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, before joining the Heat last summer. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think I realized this year more than anything what it takes to be an NBA player. I think the year set me up to potentially be that down the line.

“I think I proved to myself, more so, that I can play in the NBA, and that was big for me this year, because with L.A. last year, I never had that many opportunities. So the opportunities that I did get this year, I was around the team a lot. I felt like I was able to jell with the guys and understand where my role would be.”

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In many ways, Swider is following the path of Duncan Robinson, a 3-point specialist who arrived in need of finding his footing.

In some ways, being re-upped on a two-way deal would be Swider’s first full year with the Heat, since he was not with the team during summer league last July, at the time still with the Lakers.

“A lot of these two-way guys,” Swider said of the Heat, “they’ve done a great job in the offseason of really developing them. So I’m hoping to be another one of those success stories.

“I know they know what they’re doing when it comes to developing guys and so I’m just going to dive head first and just get into that process.”

Cain is in a somewhat different category, having spent the past two full years with the Heat, starting with summer league in 2022. Along the way he had hoped to be moved to a standard contract, contracts that in the interim instead went to Orlando Robinson and Smith.

“I’ll leave that up to my agent,” said Cain, 25, an athletic wing who went undrafted out of Oakland University in 2022 that the Heat have been attempting to mold into a 3-and-D player. “I just like to focus on just getting better at basketball. Whatever my future plays out to be, I’ll be ready for. But I’m just trying to get better at basketball.

“I feel blessed for the opportunity to be here. I still have a lot to get better at. But like I said, I’m blessed and ready for next, just ready to play, get back on the floor.”

As for Wiliams, 24, a scoring guard who went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2022 and was with the Nets’ G League team in 2022-23, it is a matter of whether he can make the adjustment from high-volume G League scorer to a two-way player who can complement on both ends.

The Heat typically have waited into the summer and even beyond to commit to their two-way spots.

But it is a pipeline possibly once and again with potential.

“Whatever the plan is,” Swider said, “I’m going to dive into it head first and go forward.”