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As Jrue Holiday becomes extension eligible in upcoming offseason, David Griffin and Trajan Langdon face critical decision

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As Eric Pincus of Baskeball Insiders and Bleacher Report drops Holiday’s potential four-year extension, let’s assess the decision facing the Pelicans.

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It seems just yesterday that Anthony Davis was publicly lobbying Dell Demps and the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday’s return alongside then freshly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins.

“I offered him my house, my car. (I) offered to buy him a house,” Anthony Davis said in the summer of 2017.

How things have changed...

Now, should the outbreak of COVID-19 force a premature end to the Pelicans’ late surge and climb into the 2020 playoff picture, David Griffin, Trajan Langdon and the rest of the front office face a decision that could ultimately define their term in New Orleans.

Trade, extend or play out the remainder of Jrue Holiday’s five-year, $131 million dollar deal?

As you may well be aware, the 2020-21 season will serve as Holiday’s de facto expiring year should he opt not to pick up his player option in 2021-22. (Why Demps offered that option in a tepid market without competing viable suitors in 2017 is a conversation for another day.)

The Pelicans could roll with Holiday until the 2021 trade deadline, giving them additional time to assess his fit alongside Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. However, this calculated risk looms as potentially costly for one of three reasons.

  1. The team risks alienating Holiday some by refusing to offer him an extension this summer — just one year after selling him as the face of their franchise. “This is Jrue Holiday’s team,” Griffin said on June 20th. Also, should the offer(s) fail to match expectation, bringing him back will be a tough sell.
  2. It gives him full freedom to negotiate with other teams in 2021.
  3. At the very least, it allows Holiday and agent Jason Glushon the freedom to drive up the Pelicans’ asking price next summer. No such bidding war will exist this summer as the ultimate decision resides with New Orleans front office in 2020.

After seeing Glushon impressively secure a four-year, $110 million contract for Al Horford from the Philadelphia 76ers in addition to help ink the deal Jaylen Brown received from the Celtics (four years, $115 million), any Pelican faithful expecting a ‘bargain’ might want to reassess their level of optimism.

Why would Holiday return for less money after landing on two All-Defensive Teams in addition to putting up the best numbers of his career?

Now, we know that the Pelicans have at least answered calls as to Holiday’s availability despite being hesitant to deal him according to reports from New York Times’ Marc Stein and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“So, you are not trying to trade Jrue Holiday?” - Jen Hale on December 17th.

“Clearly not.” - Griffin

Should an overwhelming offer be presented, as Woj indicated back in February it would take to pry Holiday out of New Orleans, that could be a possible avenue for the Pelicans brass. These types of rumors could also be critical in Glushon’s negotiating tactics this summer. If contenders around the NBA continue to prod their interest, that only gives Holiday more ammunition at the negotiating table.

Carrying Holiday’s expensive rate over what could be five more seasons might be more than some want to chew, but we’ll circle back to what a new contract could look like.

So, what would an overwhelming trade offer look like?

  • Brooklyn NetsCaris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, 2020 first (PHI), 2022 first (BKN)

Per Brian Windhorst on a recent episode of the Hoop Collective, the Nets are reportedly interested in acquiring a third star, so pursuing a trade for Holiday seems to make a lot of sense.

LeVert offers a cost-controlled wing defender and playmaker albeit with a substantial amount of risk. LeVert’s per-36 (22.0 points, 5.1 assists, 5.1 rebounds) are impressive as is his 38 percent conversion rate from three, but his injury history should alarm Griffin and company. In addition to breaking his leg 16 months ago, LeVert has required multiple foot surgeries in his life. At just 25 years of age, LeVert has time to bounce back, but long term viability could be a concern. Luckily, no one should have a clearer picture of his future than Langdon, Brooklyn’s former assistant general manager.

Allen’s dismissal lessens what could become a complicated frontcourt with aging veteran DeAndre Jordan itching to start. Allen is undoubtedly the better player at this point, but teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving didn’t take pay cuts to watch Jordan ride the pine. Decisions like this one could have played a factor in Kenny Atkinson’s dismissal.

  • Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk, 2025 first (MIA)

It should be noted the final year of Olynyk’s contract is a player option. However, the Heat have the space necessary to simply acquire Holiday without necessitating salary matching. The Heat would probably be averse to dealing a future pick along with a blue-chip prospect like Herro, but Herro alone does not match Holiday as a two-way force and playmaker. Herro could ultimately grow into the perfect Peja Stojakovic-esque complement to Ball, Ingram and Zion, though, and evolve into one of the best floor spacers in the NBA.

Like LeVert, Porter does come with his share of concern, but his upside is such that the Pelicans would have no choice but to accept. The Nuggets aren’t likely to entertain such a notion especially given the relative youth of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic; however, dumping Harris’ remaining two years and $40 million comes as its own prize. Harris has been straight abysmal the past 18 months. Holiday serves an immediate and immeasurable upgrade, offering a better and more versatile defender in addition to complementing Murray on the offensive end. Holiday can flourish as a third option as he did in January of 2018 and to a lesser degree with Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis after Cousins’ career-defining achilles injury.

What arguably may be the best match for the Pelicans looks downright horrifying for opponents on the defensive end. Turner is one of the league’s best shot blockers with room to expand his range. On a moderately priced contract, the Pelicans can afford to be patient with his development and/or move on if the fit doesn’t blend the way they envision. The Pacers may want to continue experimenting with their Domantas Sabonis - Turner 4/5 combination but the Pacers hummed effortlessly without their big prompting what could be a move this offseason. With Brogdon and Oladipo already in the fold, the Pacers may prefer a wing to pair alongside TJ Warren, but a player of Holiday’s ilk would be too good to pass up.

Going bigger long term could become problematic for the Pelicans as Zion has been good enough to earn a 77-win total expectancy at the 5 (Clean the Glass).

Besides, Favors and Zion have been quite superb together prompting the question,”Why shake up the center position at all?”

While some may argue Toronto could make OG Anunoby available, the Raptors timeline doesn’t seem conducive to Holiday’s. These three teams would likely serve as the principal contenders due to both their interest and available returns.

Are these offers top dollar? No.

If the Pelicans were to deal Holiday, they likely already missed their best opportunity. Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers were highly motivated to add a high-caliber player in order to lure Kawhi Leonard in a deal that almost assuredly would have brought back Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last summer. Likewise, the Pelicans could have interrupted the Utah - Memphis deal that brought Grayson Allen and Brandon Clarke to Memphis (in addition to Jae Crowder who was since dealt to Miami in part of the deal that landed Justise Winslow) for Mike Conley Jr.

Regardless of weighing theoretical deals against one another, the bottom line is this: Jrue Holiday already fits the specific criteria the Pelicans need right now. He is an elite defender who can create off the dribble on the court and is an ambassador to the city that the young core can look to off of it.

Addressing the Fit

The biggest concerns with Holiday’s return will be his age, usage and salary.

Let’s dispense with the latter first.

Salary Implications

Holiday will demand a sizable rate as we addressed earlier. How sizable will appear alarming at first.

According to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders, Holiday can add up to four years to his deal at a maximum of five years total (waiving his player option). The maximum rate he can negotiate is 120 percent of the current rate or eight percent raises in the final three years following his player option.

Now, the salary cap could fluctuate due to the pandemic occurring around us. Should regular season and postseason games be forfeited, there’s no telling what could befall the cap going forward.

“Basically, we’re in a world of “hell if I know” since the cap could stray massively from existing projections. The cap for 2021 was supposed to be $125 million, but I had already expected it to drop to about $123-124 million before the current health crisis.”

According to the New York Post, enough optimism still exists for a regular season prelude to what could be a closed-door playoff scenario that could go well into the summer.

Regardless of how the season ultimately concludes or what those numbers in fact become, Jrue’s maximum salary still has percentages attached to it and can only be extended for a maximum of four additional seasons.

“Jrue is eligible for a 120% raise on either his 2020-21 salary, or if he opts in 120% on his player option for 2021-22. He’s be able to get 8% raises. The limit is five seasons so if he’s getting an extension during the 2020-21 season (including the July offseason – or whatever when we have an offseason) – he can add on four more years. If he opts in, it’s three years beyond the 2021-22 year.”

Based on those numbers, we can (with Pincus’ help) qualify what Holiday could be eligible for:

2021-22: $31,477,333

2022-23: $33,995,520

2023-24: $36,513,707

2024-25: $39,031,893

Total: $141,018,453

This sum added to his salary in 2020-21 would make his next five years come out to somewhere near $166.4 million as the maximum he can receive through the summer of 2025.

Whether he’d want that much is uncertain. While the Pelicans should hope he’ll re-sign at a hometown discount, it isn’t exactly the most reasonable thing to ask after proclaiming the team as ‘his.’

But Jrue isn’t like most NBA stars. Head coach Alvin Gentry often laments that the Pelicans are one of the quietest teams he’s been around and that’s reflected in their leader. Holiday is one of the most determined and fearless competitors in the NBA. However, he’s also one of the most humble. He’s exactly the type of player and teammate others want to be around.

“I just told (Jrue) on the phone, man, you’re one of my favorite players in the NBA and I truly mean that,” JJ Redick told the Ringer. “He’s someone that I’ve just respected and admired as a person and as a player for a long time. As much as it was the young guys and the opportunity to play that mentoring role and all that, a big part of this was getting that opportunity to play with Jrue. I think that was a huge piece of it.”

It’s no coincidence that JJ Redick wanted to play with Jrue, or that Julius Randle once referred to Holiday as the toughest competitor he’s ever seen.

Jrue doesn’t need the spotlight, nor the flashy deal. He also doesn’t deserve to be undersold. By continuing his $25 million deal annually and matching his former deal, Holiday will be making just 20% of the team’s cap by the midway point of his deal.

That’s why signing Jrue Holiday THIS offseason is so critical. If the Pelicans hope to get him on an affordable salary going forward, any and all leverage evaporates as soon as the 2020-21 regular season tips. They still have the option to extend him into the season, but it’s unlikely Holiday and Glushon would be interested in continuing those conversations after having wasted an entire offseason of haggling.

Getting Expensive...

The Pelicans will be expensive going forward. Brandon Ingram is certain to earn what could be a four-year, $130 million deal depending on how the 2020-21 salary cap unfolds. Derrick Favors should warrant a new deal this summer. Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will be up for early extensions this summer before becoming restricted in 2021. Dollars add up quickly, and should Ball earn another $100 million, keeping this core together with Holiday could become untenable.

However, this move would hardly restrict the Pelicans. In fact, it encourages them to double down and extend Ball and Hart THIS summer along with Holiday and Ingram at a discounted rate. Those three have all demonstrated themselves as part of the Pelicans immediate future. Waiting until next summer comes with the risk of Hart and Ball continuing their development and seeking close to max-level deals in 2021 when much of the league will have space thanks to the Giannis’ sweepstakes.

While Ingram, Hart and Ball symbolize building blocks, Holiday and Favors can reinforce this young group with veteran leadership as Zion plays out his rookie scale which will not end until the summer of 2024, one year before Holiday’s would potentially end. Throw in a team option on Holiday’s last season, and the Pelicans will have the flexibility to pivot if and when Zion earns his max in 2024.

If the luxury tax threshold holds up near $140 million (current estimate) or anywhere in that range, the Pelicans should have plenty to fit all seven role players comfortably under the bill. Should Holiday and Ingram even cost a combined $60 million toward next season’s cap, that still leaves as much as $80 million leftover for Ball, Hart, Redick, Zion, Favors and the cost-controlled rookies to complement them.

A little bit of faith may necessitate this move as the NBA’s salary cap continues to rapidly expand from what was just $70 million in 2015-16. And it’s not like the Pelicans have ever existed as a free agent destination, so why not use all available resources to keep this team?

The Pelicans should be negotiating with Holiday, Favors, Ingram, Hart and Lonzo Ball this summer. Yikes. But if the Pelicans have any hope of keeping this group intact, they’ll need to do so to keep the group from becoming even more expensive in 2021.

Age

This one is the most understandable concern. At age 29, Holiday is already top-30 in minutes played among active players. Not only will a contract that runs through 2025 see Holiday play right up until his 35th birthday, it will also see him wildly expand on those minutes. Holiday has both averaged and totaled among the top-20 players in the past four seasons in time spent on the court. Once he loses any strength or athleticism to his 6’4” frame, it could be disastrous for the Pelicans.

The good news is that Holiday remains one of the hardest workers in the NBA off the court. While he suffered a stress fracture in 2013, a metal rod inserted in 2014 did not derail his career. He continues to outwork and out hustle everyone. Should his legs leave him, he still possesses some of the best hands in the NBA. He also has the intelligence to match up with positions 1-4, often outhinking bigs leading to careless turnovers.

And with Pelicans’ former consultant Mike Guevara as his personal performance coach coupled with a program run by Aaron Nelson, seeing Holiday continue his level of production is plausible. His past two seasons have undoubtedly been the most impactful of his career to date.

Fit

The overwhelming concern this summer was the lack of spacing that was bound to follow the Pelicans’ starting five of Holiday - Ball - Ingram - Zion - Favors.

Fred Vinson and the rest of the coaching staff helped put those concerns to rest improving Ingram and Ball’s numbers to 38.7 and 38.3 percent on a combined 12.8 three-point attempts per game and the group as a whole ranks in the 74th percentile in effective field goal percentage.

Better still, the Pelicans starting lineup has been the absolute best in the NBA among 5-man units playing 180 minutes or more. In 230 minutes, the group carries a +26.3 net rating, including an incredible 91.6 rating on the defensive end. This is where the group shines, ranking in the 97th percentile in points per opponent’s 100 possession (91.9 points). The Pelicans starting lineup has the potential to be the best defensive unit in the NBA.

Holiday has capitalized on the space afforded to him by Zion. While shooting just over 50 percent within nine feet with Zion off the floor, he’s increased those numbers to 60 percent with him on. The Pelicans don’t just need a 3-and-D specialist with Zion on the floor. Having a dribble penetrator at 4 of the Pelicans’ five positions makes them virtually unguardable.

Holiday has been just that as evidenced by his 88.8 percentile rank in isolation scoring with a 59.3 effective field goal percentage. He’s 15th in assists and one of just five players in the NBA with 19.6 points, 6.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game (Doncic, Westbrook, LeBron, Harden).

On the defensive end, there isn’t a player available via trade or the draft who can defend the way that Holiday can. Holiday takes the opponent’s best perimeter scorer every night. While even Holiday will struggle against LeBron James and Kevin Durant, he routinely shuts down players like Donovan Mitchell, Paul George, James Harden, Zach LaVine and Devin Booker while keeping teammates fresh in the process.

What player available via trade can put up 20, seven and five while being tasked with opponent’s best scoring threats every night?

The group’s symmetry has been undeniable. The play of the bench has been troublesome outside of Hart and Redick, who missed the final five games of the season. The Pelicans need a wing and a big to supplement those two off the bench. Kenrich Williams could develop into that player in time if he can develop his shot, but the Pelicans do have plenty of draft capital to find other ways to supplement that position via the draft or trade.

In addition, the Pelicans have been downright gross during clutch minutes with the NBA’s second-lowest rate (-20.8).

But as Antonio Daniels of Fox Sports Nola hypothesized, closing takes a group time to learn. Getting more minutes from Zion will help matters as well. In Williamson’s minutes, the Pelicans play like a 63-win team according to Cleaning the Glass. As impressive as that is, Holiday and Favors have both been even better since January 24th with net ratings of +10.8 and +13.5, respectively.

This group works. On the court this starting unit played like one of the very best. Off the court they have the perfect blend of veteran leadership and earnest and humble blue-chip prospects who work their ass off to get better every day.

Best of all, Holiday wants to be in New Orleans:

“I honestly feel like I’m built for this team, and the way that we’ve been able to come together has really been cool,” Holiday told CBS Sports in February. “I feel like I’m committed to this team and the players. I know for me personally, I try not to let my teammates down, so every time I come out here I feel like I try to put on my hard hat and my armor and go out there and fight for them.”

The Decision

When it’s all said and done, the Jrue Holiday decision could loom as the most important one of Griffin and Langdon’s tenures. While Griffin pulled off an incredible coup from the Los Angeles Lakers using what little leverage he had to his advantage, his choice was restricted to trading Anthony Davis. In this circumstance, he has multiple options.

If the Pelicans do decide he’s too rich to keep, it’ll come with their own share of risks. Would the player New Orleans acquires fit within the structure and complement the other four starters the way Holiday has?

Holiday will be expensive, but there is no better use of the Pelicans’ cap space in the interim.

What would you do? Comment below?!

I’d personally offer a four-year, $110 million extension in bringing him back at a total cost of $136 million for the next five years. I think it’s a reasonable offer for both sides. Lonzo, Ingram, Hart and Zion’s deals will all expire in 2024, one season before Jrue’s giving the Pelicans plenty of time to assess their long term plans. Even should Lonzo receive a similar deal, the Pelicans should still have nearly $50 million under the tax to carve out the remaining 12 spots. Having Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Zion under cost-controlled deals helps immensely in this regard.

In an absolute worst case scenario, the Pelicans can always stretch Holiday during his final season to recoup needed salary as Zion, Lonzo and Ingram enter year one of their new deals.

There’s no reason not to bring Holiday back unless there is a young player the Pelicans both identify as an upgrade coupled with a team’s willingness to deal said player. In terms of fit, there are few players like that throughout the NBA, and fewer teams who’d be willing to part with them. Plus, there could be the whole matter of salary matching.

Thanks for reading and let’s geaux, Pels!