This offseason we have seen this New Orleans Pelicans team reshaped in dramatic fashion. A slew of new faces come in — faces that fit a more flexible less star power, more solid roleplayer mold — replacing bigger names that never truly fulfilled what was expected of them. However, there are still two key pieces from the initial Pelicans’ foundation who are in the final years of their contract. I’ve discussed Tyreke Evans already here and Bird Writes’ newcomer Mike Robinson has provided his take on Evans here. While our opinions on Evans’ value as a player and to the Pelicans’ success are very far apart, we both agree that we are in the end days of his tenure in New Orleans. Knowing that Evans isn’t part of the future allows us to shift focus and evaluate Jrue Holiday — the other Pelicans point guard in the last year of his deal.
If you are reading this site, you are more than a casual basketball fan and already know that Jrue is on an indefinite leave of absence while his wife has surgery to remove a brain tumor. What you may not know is that during media day both Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry said there is no timetable for his return. They told him to take as much time as he needs away from the team to be with his family — which now includes a newborn baby girl. This is the right thing for the organization to do, but it does make evaluating his future with this team a bit harder.
It may seem odd to question whether Holiday will be brought back. Jrue is true point guard with good size, a defensive pedigree and an All-Star appearance. He’s entering his prime years. He’s a willing passer who has a good midrange game and performs well in the pick and roll. He’s an above average shooter from deep, and he has a nice touch around the rim. I’ve called him the Anonymous Donor because he has the ability to make those around him better and impact the game in ways that sometimes go unnoticed by boxscores. Also, adding to all of these great basketball skills is the fact that we have already given up two first round picks to have him lead the Pelicans.
This is where my concern begins. When Holiday is on the court he’s a real asset. However, much like Eric Gordon when he was acquired — both arrived damaged. Since the 2011-2012 season in which we acquired him, Gordon only appeared in 221 of 410 possible games — 54%. Jrue hasn’t fared that much better playing in 139 of 246 possible games — 57%. Now, in a contract year with no inclination of when he will rejoin the team, we have to decide if Holiday is one of our cornerstones or another sunken cost.
Obviously, Holiday is a much more multi-faceted player than Gordon. However, Eric Gordon was once seen as one of the next great shooting guards before injuries derailed his career. After watching five seasons of empty promise, I understand if you don’t believe me, so take a look at Sebastian Pruiti’s Grantland column from December 2011 to remember how Gordon was seemingly on the path to becoming an elite player in this league. It is why Dell Demps gambled and matched the offer sheet Gordon signed with the Suns. It’s why it was so frustrating to watch him fluctuate between terrible and just mediocre. I am beginning to worry that this kind of investment in Holiday will result in an all too familiar painful stretch as we wait for our cap space to be freed from a player who either can’t stay on the court, or can’t produce at the level he flashed due to chronic injuries. I thought this year would be crucial for Holiday to prove he could play at least 70 games, and be the one-guard this team can count on. This obviously won’t happen. I don’t expect him back before the first of the year, and I really think we won’t see him until after the All-Star break.
When he does return, it isn’t very likely that he’ll just be able to jump right in. Remember, Holiday started last season healthy — though on a minutes restriction — and even after going through training camp and preseason Holiday sputtered out of the gate. In some games he was downright terrible posting a net rating of negative 20.1 in October, which he followed up with a negative 6.2 in November. In those months he started every game he played putting him on the floor with AD for nearly all of his minutes. Meanwhile Ish Smith was outperforming Holiday off the bench. I was frustrated as I’m sure Jrue was too. I knew Jrue was a much better player, but the rust and/or lack of comfort in the new offense was costing us games. In December we started to see the Holiday we knew return to form. He was playing so well that by the end of the season he had raised his PER to 19.74 — the highest of his career — despite having such a terrible start to the year. We can’t expect this level of Holiday immediately upon his return after Jrue missed a large chunk of the season and all of training camp. Jrue will surely be rusty, and he will have a slew of new faces to figure out. It’s naive to think the transition will be seamless.
Needless to say, I’m not expecting much from Jrue Holiday this season, and that’s not a knock on his game, it’s just an unfortunate situation. He’s a very talented player that I’ve written glowingly about in the past — starting with my first ever Bird Writes post, followed by my team preview from last season and then again in my season wrap up. Hey, I even gave him the gift of, “respect” for Christmas. I just don’t have confidence that this swarm of misfortune that has kept him off of the court will finally dissipate after signing a new deal.
These misfortunes also have me wondering if Jrue wants to stay in New Orleans. It’s pretty evident that he loves his teammates, but look at what he has gone through in his time in the city. The leg issues, a teammate’s girlfriend committed suicide, a teammate was killed, he suffered an orbital fracture and now his wife has a brain tumor that requires surgery. I couldn’t blame him if he wanted to give a change a scenery a shot. Considering Jrue has left the Wasserman Agency — the agency that also represents Anthony Davis — for agent Jason Glushon, it wouldn’t be outrageous to speculate that Holiday isn’t sold on returning, or at least at returning with a team-friendly discount.
With all of this uncertainty surrounding Holiday’s impending free agency and his propensity to miss games, it may be wise for the Pelicans to start preparing for a long-term future without Holiday running the show. Luckily, we have a few serviceable playmakers that could become above average players at their positions on the roster already. They all have their flaws, and none are the player that Holiday is when he’s at his best — with the exception of possibly E’Twaun Moore — but if one or two of these guys can show improvements in their specific weak areas this season we may not have to do much to fill that void.
Still, if more is needed this is a great season to do so. While the two big names are extremely unlikely to come to New Orleans — though both do have ties to Alvin Gentry and one already has a legacy here he could build upon — there are some quality point guards that could hit free agency this offseason. Chris Paul and Stephen Curry are the elite guys, but the class also features Kyle Lowry, Dennis Schroder, Jeff Teague, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Joseph Young, Jerian Grant and Kay Felder. I could also see the following point guards’ teams listening to trade offers at the break or in the offseason — Ricky Rubio, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Patrick Beverley, Tyler Ulis and Tomas Satoransky. The draft is also expected to be highlighted by a star crop of point guards. The players to watch as we begin to prepare for the draft are Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, and De’Aaron Fox all of whom are profiled in this Kevin O’Connor piece at The Ringer.
There is nothing I would love more than to see Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis team up in New Orleans for another decade, but when I look at this team’s history with sunken costs and health gambles, and Jrue Holiday’s series of unfortunate events it is starting to make sense to make like Ronnie Dobbs and run.
It’s ironic that David Fisher is always warning about falling in love with our own guys while stumping for a Holiday extension. It’s also ironic that I’m calling for us to start coveting our neighbors’ point guards while I’d re-sign an injured Tyreke today. Sometimes our hearts get in the way, but my head is definitely saying abort.
While Tom Hanks was a questionable choice to play Dell Demps in this interpretation of the Pelicans’ sunken cost contracts, it’s up there with his best work as Ray Peterson in The ‘Burbs — it is the live action dog in a burning house meme.