Nearly two months into 2018 NBA free agency, Tyler Ulis remains unemployed.
The former Phoenix Suns guard was waived by the team on June 30 and has been an unrestricted free agent ever since then.
While obviously undersized, Ulis has proved himself as a capable backup point guard in the NBA. The Suns were already littered with guards and drafted another in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, so keeping Ulis around didn’t make much sense for them and their future. Although it did annoy Ulis’ best friend and teammate Devin Booker (but Book didn’t seem too upset shortly after signing a massive contract extension). The Suns have moved on from Ulis and now it’s time for him to move to somewhere else.
In two seasons with the Suns, Ulis played in 132 games and averaged 7.6 points to go along with 4.1 assists per game. While he struggled as a consistent shooter, Ulis was a reliable ball handler and one who made few mistakes. He’s the exact type of player that NBA teams should be looking for in a backup point guard, but his size has seemingly deterred that. In an NBA world trending towards “positionless basketball”, Ulis seems to be the one being affected by it the most (well, him and Isaiah Thomas, but Thomas has a job right now).
There is still plenty of time for him to be signed to a contract before the season begins and it would be a shock if he isn’t on an NBA roster in some fashion by opening night. Whether it be a one-year minimum deal or even a two-way contract, Ulis is too good to be left out. So basically it comes down to who is going to snatch him up?
Ulis has been seen working out publicly with Eric Bledsoe (Bucks) and Jabari Parker (Bulls), although trying to connect pieces together there is hopeless. But it should be pointed out that Parker and Ulis are both from Chicago and played on the high school circuit together. Chicago has a couple guards already in Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne but they could bring in Ulis for cheap as an incredibly low-risk signing on a team looking to develop young talent.
Now midway through August, most rosters are starting to be pieced together and are close to being polished products. The need for backup point guards isn’t too high on the priority list. The Charlotte Hornets could look to bring in Ulis as the third guard behind All-Star Kemba Walker and future Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker, which would be an excellent group for him to learn under. This could also lead to the pairing of Malik Monk and Ulis…
Another team that could use Ulis is the Miami Heat. Outside of Goran Dragic, they don’t have a dominant lead guard who is comfortable directing an offense. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are capable ball handlers, but they aren’t floor generals and the team being able to add that dimension to their bench could be worth offering Ulis a contract.
The team I would enjoy watching him on the most would probably be the Utah Jazz, although this is the least likely to happen of the teams mentioned. Unless Dante Exum’s injury woes continue to follow him into this season, the Jazz will be set at the guard spot and they’d have to create a roster spot to add Ulis. Even still, Ulis would thrive in an offense that is built off quick ball movement, something that Jazz was elite at, especially towards the end of last season.
Ulis is now over a year removed from an ankle surgery that held him out of last year’s Summer League, so having the entire offseason healthy will surely benefit him. Whatever team does decide to sign him is going to get a bulldog.