For the second offseason in a row, the New Orleans Pelicans were faced with a decision on whether to trade one of the team’s best players and a face of the franchise. Last year it was Anthony Davis; last night the New Orleans Pelicans sent Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for George Hill, Eric Bledsoe, and three draft picks and two swap options. It was another ransom haul for Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin and General Manager Trajan Langdon. Coming so soon in the offseason it signals that another move is on the horizon, likely as soon as the 2020 NBA Draft.
The New Orleans Pelicans received a package closer to the Davis return than what the team was first offered for Holiday. After surveying the market and going through counteroffers New Orleans was able to leverage Milwaukee’s fear of losing Giannis into two tradeable veterans and years worth of possible lottery picks. Using their pick at 13 and Milwaukee’s pick at 24, New Orleans is expected to make several offers to move up in the draft. Beyond Tyrese Maxey, and Aaron Nesmith confirming working out for the team and Cole Anthony saying he was contacted, any mentions of what players might be included in the trade or targeted in the draft would be pure speculation.
New Orleans also now controls the rights to up to five years’ worth of draft picks from Milwaukee to pair with the incoming picks from Los Angeles. The question becomes which picks are guaranteed and which could be optional. After this year’s pick, the second and third selections that are guaranteed to transfer will depend on Milwaukee’s deal with Cleveland that has pick protections. It should transfer to Cleveland in 2022, barring catastrophic injuries or Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Kris Middleton all leaving town as free agents.
Either way, with the 2022 pick in the balance the Bucks cannot guarantee a transfer of the 2021 or 2023 picks they own. Milwaukee has 1-8 draft slot protections on the pick owed to Cleveland for 2024. Should the Bucks bottom out, that would be the year to have a pick swap option. The Bucks will be aiming for a championship in 2020-21; negotiation for a pick swap after next season would be a waste of time. Considering the uncertainty of the NBA landscape when the picks do convey, New Orleans will have the assets to move up in the 2020 NBA Draft and also trade for an All-Star talent to compliment Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson sooner rather than later.
Bledsoe and Hill are likely to be included in those trades. Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball all have bright futures ahead of them. Bledsoe and Hill are both on the wrong side of 30. Ingram is an All-Star, Hart is the embodiment of a championship culture going back to Villanova, and Ball has loads of potential and value on the trade market. Bledsoe ($16.8m) and Hill ($9.5m) will eat over $26 million of cap space next season, with the ability to leave for no return on investment soon after. The front office will be proactive in gauging their trade values. Ingram, Hart, and Ball are all cost-efficient rookie contracts with avenues to match any offers. The Pelicans have more control over the situation and can be more patient.
The team did consider how the trade would affect Ingram and Williamson. The late-night trade elicited reactions from Holiday’s locker room, and it was his for years of that there was no doubt. Josh Hart tweeted out a simple “Damn…” and it was not because he was listening to Kendrick Lamar. It is because Jrue Holiday was the DNA of this franchise. Chris Paul owns the Hornets colors in New Orleans. Anthony Davis was drafted into that teal and then he tucked tail and ran to the other LA.
Jrue Holiday was the deep blue and vivid red of the Pelicans. He was the Mardi Gras edition colors come to life, the spirit that may have lost a game but never lost in the party of life. He did struggle at times, yet he always met his obstacles with dignity. He represented everything about a sustainable championship culture that a basketball organization can ask for yet the time had come for him to move on. The young core will have to learn to appreciate their short time with one of the best mentors in the game, not dwell on him moving on to a new championship challenge.
This was the franchise for Holiday, and likewise, Holiday was the leading star this city deserved. He is a capital ‘H’ Humble and Hard-working type of person. Understanding and patient, yet full of perseverance. Fans appreciated Holiday, through thick and thin. Holiday acknowledged that unheralded level of respect, on-court and in private matters, and transferred the character of the city to his on-court performances. The beat did not always bounce the way everyone in the Smoothie King City wanted it too, but there was no denying Holiday was an artist at what he does and always showed up ready to lead the band of whatever roster was available.
Likewise, Griffin is an artist at negotiating trades revolving around draft picks and surplus to requirements cap filler. He could have taken Kyle Kuzma instead of Ball or Hart last year but opted otherwise. Bledsoe and Hill could both prove useful for a season. However, both will have some value through the trade deadline or next offseason makes little. Past that it is hard to see either on the roster.
Paired with the stockpile of draft picks from Los Angeles and Milwaukee, New Orleans has the ability to move into the top of the draft. Bledsoe, Hill, and a future pick for a top-five draft pick would be audacious but it is a possibility. New Orleans will keep monitoring the Mid-Level and Bi-Annual Exception options. At some point they will sign Ingram to a new contract and may even decide to make another astonishing trade by including an unexpected player.
Whatever Griffin and the front office wind up negotiating with other teams will be from a position of strength. The Pelicans have one of the most exciting and talented young foundations in the NBA, a clean cap sheet, and a stockpile of draft picks that stretch for the better part of the decade. However, Griffin will need to see a championship end to justify the means of trading Holiday for Bledsoe, Hill, and a bag of hope (draft picks). When it comes to negotiating a truce with the fanbase and the locker room, the front office expended a lot of political goodwill and trust by capitalizing on Holiday’s trade value.
Trading Holiday now was an all but inevitable move but it hurt all the same. The team has hope going forward without Holiday just as Holiday can dream about an NBA Finals appearance next season. The hope is that Holiday’s jersey becomes the first Pelicans’ jersey to hang from the rafters and that fans are allowed in the Smoothie King Center when the Milwaukee Bucks comes to town. With teams and the league office concerned about gate revenue, it is a good bet that Holiday’s return would be the hottest ticket of the season.
Holiday was the overlooked, undervalued MVP rhythm of the team for sevens seasons and 415 games. Until that night of return comes, it is lights out on the party that was Jrue Orleans.