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The threat of Jrue Holiday leaving New Orleans during free agency is growing by the day

The Pelicans unhappiness with Holiday deciding to explore the market and the addition of Chris Finch to the coaching staff signal a call for contingency plans.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no more denying it. We have to legitimately ponder if Jrue Holiday seeks a fresh start in the NBA.

Prior to the trade that netted DeMarcus Cousins, Zach Lowe mentioned the Pelicans were worried about keeping Anthony Davis happy for the long term because a Holiday departure seemed to be a real issue.

Holiday is less so. He hasn't thought about free agency yet -- "not even a little bit," he said. The team is worried he will walk, and that his departure will leave Davis frustrated about the franchise's direction. "I'm gonna do everything in my power to keep him here," Davis said, "but it's a business decision, and he's a grown man with a family."

Just how worried was the organization back in December? Well, the front office was seen poking around the league for a point guard prior to the trade deadline.

Why would the Pelicans have an interest in Reggie Jackson? In case Holiday would’ve been a part of some out-going package!

None of these deals obviously transpired, but it’s impossible to not notice New Orleans is still very much in the dark five months later. The latest bit of interesting news to throw into the pot comes from WDSU’s Fletcher Mackel in an article published yesterday.

I’m told Holiday and his camp fully intend to test the free agent market and want to take their time exploring all options – which has the powers that be at the Pelicans headquarters “unhappy.”

Fortunately, the threat of Davis winding up alone in New Orleans has been put to bed temporarily by Boogie now walking the same streets, yet it’s troubling to read the team’s state of being has shifted from one of concern to disappointment regarding Holiday.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If winning is one of the most important factors to Jrue, one would assume the addition of another star to the roster would have eased, not worsened, the situation. Yet it appears Jrue’s camp has decided to keep the Pelicans in a dreaded holding pattern despite the roster upgrade. They are well aware that Holiday’s reluctance to play ball at the bargaining table now backs New Orleans into a bad corner, having to wait on his decision before cementing most other off-season targets. As Alvin Gentry, Dell Demps and numerous players have stated at various times through the year, Holiday is the team’s free agent priority.

So, the natural question to ask is why do the Pelicans find themselves in this predicament?

From all the rumors I’ve heard, I don’t buy the front office is trying to lowball Holiday. Unlike with Eric Gordon or Ryan Anderson, they’ve made their intentions well known at every turn they would love to re-sign Jrue so they’re not going to mess around with unreasonable contract offers. Rather, I’m inclined to look the other way and surmise Holiday’s camp is probably asking for the moon, a deal possibly approaching a neighborhood of the maximum five years and $175 million.

This wouldn’t be the first time he’s made such overtures. Back in 2012, Holiday agreed to a 4-year, $41 million extension with the Sixers, but he had been seeking a max deal beforehand that would have been worth over $60 million for four years. Initially, talks were classified as miles apart because the Sixers were comfortable offering around $9 million a season, a far cry from $13.6 million and upwards with yearly raises.

At that time, Tony Dutt represented Holiday but they wound up relenting for a much smaller amount, likely a smart decision considering players on rookie deals have very little leverage. This time round, it’s a whole different ballgame — Holiday is an unrestricted free agent. In addition, he switched from a Nola based representative, Thad Foucher, at the start of this season to Jason Glushon.

If you may recall, Glushon represented Al Horford one year ago, and apparently the highly coveted center left the Hawks for the Celtics due to a money squabble.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Horford's former team, the Atlanta Hawks, reportedly tried to re-sign him even after acquiring another big man in Dwight Howard. Horford indicated he would have been open to playing alongside Howard, but that he and the team weren't "on the same page" financially. According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Hawks and Horford were about $5 million apart in negotiations over the length of his next contract -- hardly anything given the money flying around this summer.

The Celtics offered Horford the full maximum contract of four years, $113 million. The Hawks could have given him more money -- and one more year -- because they held his rights.

Be prepared for possibly a similar outcome: Holiday gets tempted by a slightly larger amount and bolts out of New Orleans. Unless the Pelicans make a sizable commitment to Jrue’s brother, Justin, it’s impossible to imagine Dell Demps getting lucky with any team-friendly discount at this point, isn’t it?

Back in October Kevin warned of such an occurrence when he listed a number of negatives that would play determining factors in Holiday signing his next contract.

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.

It’s difficult to disagree with any of this except for possibly one thing now, something many of us took for granted: Holiday’s love for his teammates. Oh, I don’t doubt he gets along famously with most, if not the entire locker room, but there’s another important element to consider that was placed front and center on a particular night this past December: Commonality may be an issue.

Apparently after the Pelicans had lost to the Spurs on December 18th, Anthony Davis hosted an Instagram Live event. According to those with knowledge of the surrounding circumstances, players were having fun, probably trying to lighten the mood and put a recent 3-10 streak further into the back of their minds. However, note that it came at the expense of some including Alexis Ajinca, Buddy Hield and Holiday — even if all the words had absolutely no ill intentions.

To make a big deal about anything said that night would be foolish as it’s impossible to confirm validity and context; however, it’s material to point out the fact that what drives Holiday, what he decides to do often with his free time, is likely far different from a lot of professional players.

At first, I figured the Holiday brothers had only wanted to play together in the NBA because of a genetic connection and deep friendship. I can’t help now but wonder if there’s more to it — say having another spiritually motivated teammate alongside. Not that long ago, Monty Williams and Ryan Anderson shared the same locker room, but they’ve moved on. Quincy Pondexter remains, and perhaps a few other voices that share similar views, but it may no longer enough.

Simply put, basketball does not define Jrue Holiday. It’s more akin to a vehicle as he travels through life with his wife and God as co-pilots. Religion plays a gigantic role in the Holiday household, and with family by far and away his number one priority, it could ultimately influence his final decision. Thus, maybe a lack of spirituality on the team is not the root of the problem but rather just the location of Holiday’s employment. Maybe calling home in a different city has infinitely more appeal.

Either way, enough guessing, so let’s just stick to the latest facts. Late last week the Pelicans hired Chris Finch. Then Fletcher wrote an important insider comment: “if we lose Jrue, don’t assume we’ll spend our money on a player at the same position.”

The Pelicans newest assistant coach is most famous for crafting an exciting offense that revolves around a non-traditional big man rather than a point guard. Nikola Jokic and Cousins both possess an extraordinary amount of playmaking skill for their size. And above all else, this nuance remains perfectly in line with Alvin Gentry’s ideology centered around pace, space and movement as evidenced by the style of play in Denver this past season. The Nuggets offense proved it could score with the best of them, all without a traditional point guard running the show.

The writing may already be on the wall regarding Jrue Holiday’s future. At least if he leaves now, the Pelicans have shown they have the makings of a back-up plan, which seems more and more relevant by the day because unlike in Groundhog Day, the chance of the central character’s departure is trending in very much the opposite direction.