To anyone who follows the New Orleans Pelicans, it's not difficult to notice the organization has consistently deviated from their Jrue Holiday minutes plan. Before the start of training camp, Alvin Gentry stated that the plan was to limit Holiday to 15 minutes per game until January, and the team would start with 10 minutes during the preseason.
It is important to note that the restriction was originally put in place to serve as a preventative measure, not because Holiday had any lingering pain in his right leg from injury last season. However, that 15-minute limitation appeared to have a definite ceiling without room for negotiation.
That restriction didn't even make it through preseason. In the Pelicans final game of games-that-don't-count, Holiday spent 17:50 on the court. Four days earlier, Gentry announced that Holiday's restriction was going to be bumped up to 15 minutes, but that the organization "would like to extend it more and more and we will."
Suddenly, the hard cap of 15 minutes was a thing of the past, yet the team wasn't even out of October. Sure enough, just a day before the opening night of the NBA, the Pelicans announced Holiday's restriction had been raised to 20 minutes.
After the Pelicans were berated from numerous sides for their decision to sit Holiday against the Warriors on the front end of a back-to-back game, Jrue played 21:07 in their loss to the Trail Blazers. During his time on the floor, he and Eric Gordon were badly outplayed by the backcourt combination of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Then, last night against the Warriors in New Orleans, Holiday appeared in a hair under 27 minutes of action (26:45). He was removed from the game with 30 seconds remaining and the Pelicans down 13 points. A minute earlier, the deficit was 14 points after a pair of Stephen Curry free throws during which Holiday could have been removed.
Following the game, Gentry stated that Holiday's restriction had been increased to 25 minutes and Holiday stated that he was aware he was going to play longer than he had against the Trail Blazers.
"It felt good," Holiday said. "Obviously there were times where I felt a little tired but right now I'm good. (Gentry) said that there was going to be a little extra today. We took the precautionary measures earlier so that I could do that. I guess you can call it negotiating. It felt OK."
The previous day, John Reid noticed that Holiday was wearing ice packs around his right leg.
Ice treatments appear to be part of the precautionary measures Holiday talked about after the Pelicans loss to the Warriors. Although icing has not been proven to scientifically work in these situations, there is likely no harm in trying it with respect to repetitive strain injuries like Holiday's past tibia stress reaction. Rest is the best medicine during the acute phase, but it's not ideal for athletes, hence the cryotherapy.
"With this type injury, it's literally rest and managing the program of rehab the best way you can. If you get too much stimulus within a short period of time, it's going to flare up again. You just have to be super careful with it."
The Pelicans do not play another game until Tuesday night, approximately 70 hours after the conclusion of last night's loss. Did the Pelicans medical staff believe that not playing for two days before or after Saturday's game give them an opportunity to push Holiday a little harder?
Perhaps, but it still seems like a profound step when considering the plan not even a month ago was to keep Holiday under a 15 minute barrier until January. Back in September, Dell Demps promised the organization would handle Holiday very carefully.
"He just went through a workout and is in phenomenal shape. We’re going to be smart and cautious with him. One of the good things about this team is we have depth, so we’re not going to come out and ask Jrue to play 35 to 40 minutes a game. We’re going to be smart not only now, but through training camp and early in the season, to gauge where he is."
No one knows what Holiday's threshold is and where that theoretically line exists, but I fear all this gauging, testing and raising restriction minutes almost weekly comes across as radical. Mike G. echoed that playing a given amount of minutes of competitive basketball is not remotely identical to spending the same amount of time practicing or in a gym working out.
"I think that you can never replicate the stress that is placed upon a body from an NBA season without playing in an NBA season. I don't care how hard we train. I don't care how often he plays on the court. It's a whole other mindset when you're on the floor in the midst of competition. When you're trying to win a regular season game, you're on like level 30. In practice, your intention is to be at level 30 but you're on level 7. You can't replicate game speed in practice and the amount of force and stress placed on the body."
Incremental increases in minutes translate into an exponential accrual of stresses on the body. Chasing around a player of Stephen Curry's caliber for a few extra minutes could reach a sudden breaking point faster than most realize. And if Holiday's leg were to flare up again, we've learned his recovery timetable could be measured in months not weeks.
Is that a risk worth taking this early in the season, when in all reality, the Pelicans were likely going to have a losing record anyway after three games? The off-season plan was continuity and nearly everyone from last season's playoff roster returned, yet continuity has not been something this roster has enjoyed since the preseason started.
Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole appeared in two preseason games. Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik just one. Quincy Pondexter has yet to suit up. These five players were integral parts to the success enjoyed a season ago so is it wise to push a player with a fragile right leg, that has succumbed to injury three straight years, when the team's likelihood for winning are lower?
If the Pelicans original minute restriction plan on Holiday were always supposed to remain flexible, why did it sound like a rigid guideline less than a month ago? If Holiday's minutes had been raised to 25 prior to the game against the Warriors, why was it announced at the conclusion of the game? There seem to be just too many instances appearing as off-the-cuff decisions.
Hopefully, the major issue here is communication, something this front office has lacked for years now. However, if Holiday does end up suffering some kind of setback, the only appearance the public will choose to believe will be one of pure negligence: a team that was desperate for able-bodied professional players decided to forgo the health of one player in an attempt to save the team's record from a woeful start. It wouldn't be a first time though.
Fans and media alike will stop thinking the blame for Holiday's stress reaction should continue to solely rest on Monty Williams' shoulders. Not when an entirely new coaching staff appears to be following another radical blueprint.