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Jrue Holiday should be on the trade block

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The alternative for the Pelicans is signing up for more of the same.

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue Holiday is about to be a free agent. He’s also a new father whose wife, Lauren Holiday, had brain surgery mere weeks after giving birth. In six short months the Holiday family will have a chance to determine where they live for the next couple years. The New Orleans Pelicans, smartly, gave Jrue all the time he needed to support his family in the weeks after Lauren was diagnosed.

Some may believe the Holiday family “owes” the Pelicans. That’s foolish in my mind. The Pelicans acted how we would hope any reasonable employer would act. Even if Jrue decided to leave New Orleans I firmly believe the Pelicans did the right thing. The alternative, being less supportive, would have produced wide ranging negative consequences too complicated to predict yet surely to the detriment of the opinion of the franchise within in the city and league.

At the same time, I do think the Pelicans should explore trading Jrue Holiday. I’ve been very high on Holiday for the past three years. I thought his upward trajectory would continue this season. That has not been the case. Holiday is down in a number of statistical categories and committing egregious turnovers in crunch time.

The Pelicans have been below average with Holiday in the lineup (39-49) and awful without him (5-27) since Alvin Gentry arrived in New Orleans. He clearly makes a difference, even if his play has slipped. This decline in production could be a blip and Holiday could resume on his climb into the fringes of the top ten at the point guard position.

But, Jrue Holiday is also going to be the only truly available decent point guard on the market this summer. Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Kyle Lowry are all heavily favored to remain in place. Past Jrue Holiday the quality dips significantly to Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and far lesser names. That could drive up his price and Jrue Holiday’s max contract on the market (leaving New Orleans) is four years and nearly $133 million. While it is unlikely, Holiday commanding his full max an average salary of $25 million or more is not out of the question.

Is Jrue Holiday’s production worth 25% of the Pelicans salary cap space over the next four seasons? If you asked me before this season I leaned toward yes. After seeing him play this year, I’m leaning more and more toward no. It’s not just Holiday’s play. Trading away Holiday (for hopefully a first round pick) and little actual talent in return would likely sink this team. Again, they are 5-27 (!) without Jrue Holiday in uniform over the last two seasons. Nothing short of trading Anthony Davis aids in gathering losses at stupendous speed.

Drafting for the stars

Have you seen this draft class? It’s not just Markelle Fultz (averaging 22.3 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 43.3% from three) and Lonzo Ball at point guard. Dennis Smith Jr. is out here putting on the best Russell Westbrook impersonation you can find. That’s just at the point guard position! Josh Jackson, while he is struggling with his shot, marks off all the other boxes including absurd athleticism, defense, and court vision. Jayson Tatum is a silky smooth scorer inside the 3-point line with a great toolbox to be good in other areas. Did I mention the last two (Jackson and Tatum) are small forwards?

This draft is deep with star potential at the top. Five (or more, depending on who you ask) players with legitimate All-Star potential within reasonable reach. New Orleans is just two games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for eighth in the West, yet just three games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for the second worst record in the NBA.

Again, to reiterate, the Pelicans are 5-27 without Jrue Holiday in uniform the last two seasons. The Brooklyn Nets, the worst team in the NBA, are 8-27 this season. A new CBA strongly encourages teams to build through the draft. Tanking improves the expected value of such draft picks.

Additionally, the new CBA is expected to stunt the movement of slightly lesser stars (think DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George) thanks to the massive incentives it provides to players to stay with the team that drafted them. If, for whatever reason, those teams are unable to get their stars to sign enormous extensions they will likely be traded to the highest bidder. The New Orleans Pelicans best chance to have the necessary assets to acquire such stars is tanking with a side of lottery luck.

Don’t want to wait on Markelle Fultz or Josh Jackson to develop? Maybe DeMarcus Cousins or Paul George turn down an extension this summer and Fultz or Jackson becomes the centerpiece to a blockbuster trade. An additional first round pick from selling on Jrue Holiday by the trade deadline would be a welcome component to outbid the Boston Celtics, among other teams.

This is not just Jrue Holiday, his production, or anticipating his next contract. It is all of those things plus assisting the tank, a thoroughly enticing draft class, and opening potential avenues to acquiring a second star should one come available this summer. As one of Jrue’s biggest fans advocating for trading him is difficult. If the draft class was weaker (say, last year’s or 2013’s), or if Holiday was playing better, or if the Pelicans approached reasonable competence without Holiday in the lineup my opinion would likely be different.

With the hand the Pelicans have been dealt it’s time to put Jrue Holiday on the block. The New York Knicks have some interest in acquiring Holiday (in free agency) according to Ian Begley of ESPN. They can trade their 2017 first round pick as well. What better way to arrive in the Big Apple than bringing (and receiving) gifts?