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Suns decision moved to June 30, not today, on Tyler Ulis

Phoenix Suns must pick up or decline Ulis’ non-guaranteed deal today.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Update: the Suns confirmed to me today that they moved Ulis’ guarantee date to June 30.

When the Phoenix Suns drafted French prospect Elie Okobo with the 31st overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, many fans assumed he would be taking Tyler Ulis’ spot on the roster.

General Manager Ryan McDonough confirmed that Okobo will be joining the Suns for the 2018-19 season, a message that Okobo’s camp shared with all 30 NBA teams before and during the draft and a big reason he dropped out of the first round despite being a first-round talent.

Okobo has a lot of skills, showed high productivity in the top level of French league (Serie A) and was rated anywhere from 15-30 on scout’s and team’ draft boards. But Elie is still quite raw by NBA standards and will probably not be ready to contribute significant minutes to a playoff-caliber NBA team (i.e. teams picking in the 20-30 range) for a few years. So teams declined to give him a multi-year guaranteed contract.

Check out various scouting reports on Elie here. He is aggressive on both ends of the court and has a high NBA ceiling.

The Suns jumped all over that opportunity. In the past two years, the Suns multi-year deals to #34 overall pick and #32 overall Davon Reed. Both players were guaranteed their first year salary at just under the value of the lowest first-round pick, with 2-3 team option years after that.

Expect them to do the same with Okobo.

Will he take someone’s roster spot? Yes.

But will it be Tyler Ulis’ spot? Maybe, maybe not.

Okobo could take one of several roster spots, including that of Shaquille Harrison or Davon Reed — neither of whom is guaranteed their full salary in 2018-19.

So really, it’s just a roll of the dice whether Okobo takes the spot of Reed, Harrison or Ulis.

All about Ulis

But today’s decision is all about Tyler Ulis, whose $1.54 million contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster tonight.

Update: make that June 30. The Suns confirmed to me today that they moved Ulis’ guarantee date to June 30.

The undersized Ulis (5’7” on a good day) was 5th in total minutes played last season for the Suns, but had a very difficult sophomore season. He was 3rd in assists per game for the league’s worst assisting team, but only 11th in points per game and made only 36% of his shots,

By November, Ulis had lost a lot of playing time to the likes of Mike James, Josh Gray and Isaiah Canaan, and then late in the season to Elfrid Payton and then Shaquille Harrison before injuries gave Ulis an opportunity again. Of all these players mentioned, only Payton is virtually guaranteed a full roster spot in the NBA next season.

Some (but not Ulis) blamed injuries for his slow start in 2017-18, while others simply said the league caught up with Ulis.

Either way, the Suns have a decision to make on Devin Booker’s best friend. Ulis is the next domino of the chain to either stay standing or to fall over.

If the Suns close up shop for the day and take no action, Tyler Ulis’ $1.54 million contract will be guaranteed for the 2018-19 season (reducing their free agent spending power). If they release him today, that entire salary comes off the Suns books.

Various numbers have been bandied about over the past week, claiming the Suns have anywhere from $15-20 million available for free agent spending. That variance is all about which non-guaranteed contracts the Suns drop off the books.

The way I see it, the Suns have three options with Ulis today.

Decline his 2018=19 contract

This action frees up $1.4 million in salary for July 1 spending, as many have expected the Suns to do.

The Suns don’t need Tyler Ulis as a backup point guard.

Brandon Knight will be fully healthy next season and expects to handle most of the point guard duties, unless the Suns sign/acquire another (better) point guard in July.

There’s also the rehabbing Isaiah Canaan, who is still a team and player favorite, and Shaquille Harrison was at least a crowd favorite late last season with his defensive exploits (two games of 4 steals in his first week in the NBA).

And now there’s Okobo.

As a “pro” for Ulis, releasing him now gives him maximum opportunity to hook on with another team on a guaranteed contract before they’ve already made all their roster decisions.

Kick the can down the road

Ulis and the team could mutually negotiate a new guarantee date, for later in the summer. The Suns, and loads of other teams, dance like this most every summer (the Suns did this with Ronnie Price more than once).

If the Suns are not sure about how much money they will spend, and want to keep Ulis’ contract “non guaranteed” throughout the rush of free agency, the two sides can agree to change the guarantee date to, say, mid-September.

Under that condition, the Suns would still have the control to release Ulis at any time.

For Ulis’ sake the “pro” is that he might stay with the Suns on that contract. The “con” is that by the time the Suns make a decision, Ulis’ chances to land with another team will have dwindled because they’ll have already filled out their rosters.

If Ulis takes this option, he’s basically deciding that it’s the Suns or bust.

Guarantee his contract

Tyler Ulis is still the cornerstone’s best friend.

If the Suns want to keep Devin Booker happy, they probably shouldn’t cut his best friend over a million dollars in cap room just to keep someone like Isaiah Canaan or Shaquille Harrison. Ulis is more talented than either of those two, though he has a major obstacle he cannot hurdle (size).

In fact, the Suns don’t have to even make a point guard decision yet. After drafting Mikal Bridges, the Suns no longer have much room for one or both of Davon Reed and Troy Daniels. Releasing Reed frees up about $600,000 in space, while releasing and stretching Troy Daniels frees up just over $2 million.

Bottom line

If the Suns need cap space, they could do or all of these moves. Releasing Daniels, Reed, Ulis, Harrison AND Alan Williams, as well as the cap holds for Alex Len and Elfrid Payton, the Suns can create just under $20 million in cap space for free agency.

Renouncing cap holds on Len and Payton get them to $10 million.

The other $10 million is a matter of declining non-guaranteed contracts and/or releasing/stretching Troy Daniels.

Of course the Suns could create even MORE room by releasing/stretching any of Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley or Brandon Knight. But any of those would cause a major “dead” cap hit for the next 3-5 years. Expect the Suns to only make such moves if a perfect star walks onto their doorstep.

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