There is perhaps no more beloved athlete in New Orleans Pelicans franchise history than Jrue Holiday. From his selfless work in the community, the jaw-dropping amounts of his donations, a relentless devotion to his family and a tireless motor on the floor, few have given their blood, sweat and tears to a city and those around him more than Holiday.
And yet aside from his brilliant performance in New Orleans’ first round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, Holiday and the Pelicans have continually come up short season after season.
With seven campaigns in New Orleans and 11 in the league overall, it’s time to start wondering where Holiday would like to finish his career. Would he prefer to continue his tenure here and ultimately retire a Pelican despite the team’s limited success? Or would he prefer to sign his final lucrative contract elsewhere, with a team in better position to win and enjoy greater success now?
"I've been so blessed to make this money and play basketball ... but there's people out there that need support."— ESPN (@espn) July 15, 2020
Jrue Holiday will donate the rest of his salary for this season, worth up to $5.3 million, to launch a social justice fund, he told @Rachel__Nichols on The Jump. pic.twitter.com/7LRRmHGmFT
Holiday may only be 30 years old, but he’s already in the top 35 among active NBA players in regular season minutes played, ahead of notables such as JJ Redick, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Paul George and Goran Dragic.
For the Pelicans part, I’m sure the front office has more than expressed a desire to keep Holiday should he wish to stay. The two-time All-Defensive Teamer and one-time All-Star has been one of the most consistent difference makers on both ends of the floor these past five seasons. He is one of just six players to accrue 6,000 points and 2,000 assists in the past five seasons, joining LeBron James, Chris Paul, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kyle Lowry.
In 2019-20, Holiday kept up his steady play on both ends finishing first in deflections and 12th in steals. He graded in the 98th and 93rd percentile in each respective category according to BBall Index. As we’ve expressed before, there are few in the NBA who assume the same quality of matchups on the defensive end on a night-to-night basis. Holiday finished first in the NBA (100th percentile) in quality of matchup, defending All-Star and All-NBA players on 21.9 and 15.2 percent of his possessions.
Offensively, Holiday finished third in the NBA in isolation percentile (88.3) among those with two possessions or more per game. He’s graded in the 90th percentile as a finisher in the past five seasons including 97.5 percent or better in the past three seasons according to BBall Index. As a playmaker, he’s graded in the 95.7 percentile or better in each of the past six seasons in New Orleans.
Even the most casual of Pelicans fans know by now that this offseason will be critical for Holiday’s long term future in New Orleans. Though Holiday has two years remaining on the five year, $131 million contract he signed in 2017, the final year is a player option. This means he can opt out and test the free agent waters in the summer of 2021.
That’s why it’s absolutely critical for executive vice president David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon to sit down with Holiday and his agent, Jason Glushon, and assess Jrue’s future in New Orleans.
Though Holiday has been the ideal representative of the franchise, he has no reason to give the Pelicans a hometown discount. They aren’t contending. They’re in the midst of a quick rebuild and Glushon has a history of extracting every dollar possible for his clients (see the contracts of Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Joe Johnson). The Pelicans may hope Holiday is willing to give the them a bargain, but history indicates otherwise.
The Pelicans could opt to enter the next regular season and determine Holiday’s fate nearer the trade deadline (after giving the squad the chance to play for its new coach), but do the Pelicans really need another potential trade candidate overshadowing a season?
True, Glushon doesn’t carry the flare of Klutch Sports, but the national media and various news outlets won’t hesitate to question Holiday’s future early and often just as they did last season.
So, what’s the price to stay?
Based on his value on both ends, Holiday’s $25 million salary seems a fair estimate. However, that may be too large of a pill for the Pelicans to swallow. Brandon Ingram is set to become a max player. Lonzo Ball will probably seek somewhere near or above $20 million annually next summer and Josh Hart will demand a sizable increase in salary. If the Pelicans seek any financial flexibility to shore up their roster, Holiday’s salary will eliminate that and force the Pelicans over the cap likely until Zion becomes extension eligible in 2023.
But the Pelicans also have as many as eight picks in 2020 and 2021 in addition to Lakers picks in 2021 (protected 8-30, unprotected 2022), 2023 (swap) and 2024/5. They have plenty of resources to build a contender without becoming a player in free agency. Also, signing Holiday long term still leaves the Pelicans with the ability to trade him later, if necessary.
It’s up to Holiday
David Griffin will likely make Holiday a competitive offer. Is the combo guard comfortable growing with this young core of players and helping take them from pretender to contender during the last years of his prime? Or, would he prefer to use his best remaining years to help take contenders in Brooklyn, Miami or Philadelphia to the next level?
That decision may soon be ultimately up to him.