As tempting as other offers from the Bucks and Celtics may have been, Cole Swider chose the Miami Heat because of their track record of development.
When Cole Swider first arrived at the Miami Heat’s facility in downtown Miami early this month, he was promptly directed upstairs to the practice floor for a conditioning test.
Now, if you know anything about the Heat, then you know these drills are part of the organization’s lore. Players have done well and thrived in Miami, others have seen their time stunted. When Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra say, “We’re not for everybody,” they are to some degree referencing the conditioning demands.
Swider was measured. “The body-fat stuff, the weight,” he told me in an interview on the Locked On Heat podcast that was published this week. Then came the full-court sprints.
“It’s unbelievable. The Miami Heat culture is real,” Swider said. “First day we come in here, we’re touching 10 sprints back and forth. You only have to make two at the beginning but I hear once you get closer to training camp you have to be like five or six.”
But this is exactly what Swider was looking for. After he was cut by the Lakers and cleared waivers, Swider and his representation began sifting through the opportunities. They were looking for a personality fit and, most importantly, a chance to play and get better.
Three teams enthusiastically offered an Exhibit 10 contract, a deal that essentially amounts to a training camp invite: Milwaukee, Boston and Miami.
After three years at Villanova, a year at Syracuse and a season with the Lakers, Swider has already been around great programs and players. He saw a chance to keep the trend going. The Bucks and Celtics presented a chance to be a part of not just a contender, but two of the championship favorites. Like Swider, Celtics coach Joe Mazulla grew up in Rhode Island.
As tempting as those opportunities were, only the Heat had the track record Swider and his agents, Niko Filipovich and Bill Duffy, were looking for.
“When you look at those situations, there’s not a better situation than Miami. They’ve had so many guys who came in on E-10s who’ve been converted into two-ways, who have been converted into main contracts,” Swider said. “My agent was very firm in thinking Miami was a great fit for me. And having guys like Max Strus and Duncan Robinson most recently being able to come in and carve out a role and get big contracts in the future was very convincing for me to come to Miami.”
Swider prides himself on being a “lunch-pale guy.” He said he didn’t have a problem with the conditioning drill when he arrived and was surprised that the Heat staff was already coaching up defense in August.
“You’re doing defensive assignments which, in the summer, that’s a rare commodity in the NBA,” Swider pointed out.
When we spoke, Swider was completing his third week in Miami. He’s had a chance to talk with Erik Spoelstra and Bam Adebayo. He’s seen the top brass – Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and Adam Simon – attend workouts. Most of the time is spent on team drills and pick-up games.
“I felt like in LA it was a lot more individualized, here it’s a lot more team-based,” Swider said. “I’ve learned a lot and they know how to play with a guy like me. So when I go out there in pick-up and I’m doing things they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s something Duncan would do in the game’ or, ‘That’s something that Max did last year.’ So we know how that fits into our offense and even having Bam around and all of our coaching staff who know how to work with guys like me, it’s been a really good experience and it’s been great to be able to pick their brains on what those guys do to make themselves valuable in the NBA.”
Swider’s goal is to make the most of these voluntary workouts and then earn a spot in training camp, which begins Oct. 3. Miami’s three two-way spots are occupied by Jamaree Bouyea, Dru Smith and Jamal Cain, but those three spots are still very much unsettled, according to league sources.
Cain could still be promoted to the 15-man roster, depending on the state of the team in the preseason. Bouyea and Smith will compete with Swider and Miami’s other training camp invites to keep their two-way spots, which can be swapped out at any time without affecting the salary cap.
The Heat have a type. They’ve made the most of skilled, big-bodied shooters like Robinson and Strus in the past and Swider fits the prototype. With Strus and Gabe Vincent leaving in free agency and the possibility that Robinson could be included in a trade for Damian Lillard, Swider sees an opening.
“There might be a little opportunity for me to come in and earn a two-way spot or a contract and hopefully be able to play,” Swider said. “That’s my goal, right?
“I was on a two-way last year and only got to play in seven games… so just seeing the track record of all of these guys being able to play in the NBA and get real minutes – Orlando Robinson playing 32 games, Jamal Cain playing 20 games, Dru Smith being able to start a game last year – that all goes into your decision-making process when you’re actually able to play in the NBA, not just be on a two-way.”