WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. — It's been quite some time since Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday had the luxury of a clean bill of health. Two seasons ago, Holiday lost nearly half a season to a stress fracture in his right leg. The following year, Holiday logged starter's minutes for months without fully giving his leg time to strengthen and acclimate. By January he had aggravated that same stress injury, sidelining him for three months and limiting him in New Orleans' first-round playoff series against Golden State. Between those two trying seasons, Holiday logged 74 total regular-season games—a dispiriting mark for an All-Star guard tabbed to run the offense of an up-and-coming Pelicans team.
This time around, Holiday and the Pelicans will proceed with caution. Holiday was limited in training camp; he didn't strain his leg with the full run of two-a-day practices and was pulled out of certain drills to work on an alternative regimen. When not putting in his own, separate work, Holiday made a point to be present by participating as he could or shouting words of encouragement. Every indication is that he will play as much as allowed—not by his pain threshold or internal assessment of his own injury, but as is outlined by medical professionals with an eye to the big picture. We caught up with Holiday to discuss his recovery, what it means for his season, and how the Pelicans are shaping up under a new coaching staff.
SI.com: There's been some news over the few weeks about you having a minutes restriction for next season. What's your understanding of where that is and how much you'll be playing to start the year?
Holiday: "I think it'll be 10-15 minutes just so we don't have the same thing that happened last year where I started off playing 35 minutes and something else happened to my leg and don't know why. So I think we're just going to take it slow and through every game, after every game, during every practice, see how it's feeling and we'll just go from there."
SI.com: How does that conversation go? Is that something the doctors brought up to you? Does Alvin [Gentry] propose that?
Holiday: "It was the plan last year and it just never happened. I think the doctor started off with it—Dr. [Richard] Ferkel out in L.A. The minutes restriction is just because usually during the summer, that's when you grind to prepare for all this. I never had a chance to do that. I mean, I worked hard and did all that but [basketball] is different from being in the weight room or conditioning off on the field or something. Being on the court is a different type of conditioning. I don't think people understand when you have to run, jump, slide, change directions, cut, and all that. Then, when someone's bumping you on the court, it's completely different from just running outside. Again, my conditioning stuff: I can run all day. But once you get on the court it's completely different and it's a different type of pounding. Just being able to do that, I started doing too much too fast [last season]. This year we're just going to gradually get me back into that."
SI.com: So I take it from your experience last year that you didn't need to be sold on the idea.
Holiday: "Last year we planned on having a minute restriction but as a competitor and at the time, when he would ask me, 'Are you good to go?' I'd say, 'Yeah.' My leg felt good and I told him it felt good. As competitors and coaches and all that, that's what they see – that he's good to go. But I felt like as a doctor, he knows the biomechanics of it where when you stress your leg or something like that, you need a lot more time to heal, especially after you have surgery."
SI.com: I saw in your exit interviews last season that you mentioned you were looking for answers in terms of what was going on with your leg, structurally and mechanically. Did you get any satisfying answer as to what might be going on with your body?
Holiday: "I definitely did. I think there are little muscles in there that I had to strengthen this year and we're still [working on]. Abdominal muscles that, obviously your core is like the center of everything where if that's tight then everything around you is very stable. Different parts of the leg where I might be using one muscle more than the other one—that's why I might fatigue faster or might overuse this muscle. Definitely trying to work that out during the offseason again and I'm still doing it now."
SI.com: With the leg, could you walk me through what you're doing or which muscles, specifically, you're targeting there?
Holiday: "I'd say my groin muscles and my hamstrings are something that I'm working on a lot more because with the way I walk and do stuff, I use my calves all the time."
SI.com: What are your concerns, at this point, about your body and your health? Where are you mentally in going into this season?
Holiday: "I'm excited. I'm ready to go. I love to be out there and condition and run with my teammates. Even looking at today, I'm fiending for it but I know that I don't want the same thing to happen as last year. So I've kinda got to slow down."
SI.com: From first playing on the team and being in the thick of it and then stepping back when you were injured, did you learn anything new about this team in watching from the sidelines?
Holiday: "I wouldn't say I learned anything, but I know one thing: We have heart. There's been a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges. I feel like we definitely could've backed down but every time anything hit us, we're there as a team, as a family. That was probably the biggest thing that I saw. I’ve seen teams and I've been on teams where, when adversity hits you, you kind of crumble. We never do. It's been two years."
SI.com: It's not just you with injuries, either—it seems like all of the core guys have missed time at some point. How do you build chemistry and continuity when it seems like someone or another is always out of the lineup?
Holiday: "Just by being in the gym, talking and communicating. I know sometimes when you get injured, a lot of the time you're in the training room. But getting out there on the court—if you're on the sideline cheering them on or even at practice, you've just gotta talk and communicate in that way. It does get tough because I know first-hand as an injured player sometimes you feel like you're not a part of it as much as you were because you're not on the court battling with them. That's where you've gotta take that next step and be even more vocal. The same thing with your teammates, who have got to embrace you as well."
SI.com: You came to New Orleans two full seasons ago. How have you seen the process and the build of this team evolve in that time?
Holiday: "I think they put some pieces together that they felt would be together for a long time. So just getting that chemistry and I think having the mentality that we're going to be together helps out a lot, too. I think the teams who usually win stay together, go through struggles together, and all that. I think just by putting pieces together and then adding them is working really well."
SI.com: Was the messaging from coaches and management consistent on that point over the last few years? That this team was going to be staying together?
Holiday: "Obviously with [Anthony Davis], I think A.D. had a couple of years on his deal and hopefully he would re-sign. Ryan [Anderson] had a couple years, me, Eric [Gordon], Tyreke [Evans], at the time that I came in. So it was kinda like, well, you have a good five or six guys who were going to be together for at least 2-3 years."
SI.com: You guys played the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Over the course of that series, looking across and seeing the eventual champions, what did you think separated your team from theirs?
Holiday: "I think a lot of it is experience. Obviously last year, I think the Warriors played San Antonio—they went to the second round or something like that. I think most of their team came back and they just tore up the league the next year. But at the same time I do think that we had experience and some of our experiences helped us out to get us to that point but we have to go through other experiences to make it past that. Hopefully this year we can build off of that."
SI.com: What does that experience get you? How does it tangibly change how you play?
Holiday: "I think that it's confidence, especially in crucial times and tough situations where knowing your teammates and knowing what's going to happen makes it a lot more comfortable. You never know what's going to happen, if you're going to make a shot or something like that, but I do think that comfortability helps you with your confidence in your shot—confidence in big shots, too."
SI.com: Between Philadelphia and your first couple of years in New Orleans, every team you've played on has been below average in terms of pace. How do you approach this season knowing that you'll be upping the tempo for the first time in your NBA career?
Holiday: "The first time I came to the NBA, that's when I slowed down. Before that, I was running. So every drill that we've done here, I've done either in Philly, college, or high school. I'm looking out and wishing that I was out there running those drills—it makes me feel like old times. Running like that I think is going to prepare us mentally, as well as conditioning and working up your heart rate and stuff. I do think a lot of it is mental where you have to push through that."
SI.com: That mental aspect of being a running team seems a bit underappreciated. What goes into building that mentality and having the discipline to keep running?
Holiday: "It's hard. You definitely have to push yourself to be able to run like that consistently all year. Obviously you saw the Golden State Warriors do it where they would just run people off the court. You kind of thought it was a scrimmage but for them it was a game plan. It was a strategy and for them it worked."
SI.com: Where do you want to see this team get better?
Holiday: "Defensively. Offensively I think we definitely have the talent where the chemistry will come with that. But defense is the key, whether against an opponent that's fast-paced or one who slows it down and tries to pound it in. Defensively we have to be a top-10 team in the league if we want to be successful."
SI.com: Both players and coaches have mentioned that the defensive game plan had been simplified. What does that mean, exactly?
Holiday: "It makes it easier. It makes the communication easier. Everybody knows what they're doing on the court. It makes it easier for everybody to talk and communicate. I think, again, for me as a point guard, knowing that all my teammates are behind me, knowing what I'm supposed to do and then trusting them that they're going to tell me what I'm supposed to do as well, and then trusting that they're going to be there for me—if it's a call, or I down it, or whatever it is, trusting that my teammates are going to have my back."
SI.com: So as a point guard, how do your responsibilities on defense change?
Holiday: "They don't. Get into the ball, try to disrupt the point guard, try to slow down their pace of play. Try to get deflections. Obviously as a point guard everything, usually, is behind me, so I can't talk as much but I think with this lineup where we're all kind of long, all kind of the same size and build, we can switch a lot. Then we'll be in different situations where I'll probably have to talk and somebody else will be up there trusting in me."
SI.com: You mentioned that you guys need to be a top-10 defense this year but the personnel is, in a lot of ways, the same as last year. Where do you feel like you underpeformed as a team defensively that would allow for that kind of improvement?
Holiday: "I think a lot of it was the inconsistency of the players on the court. [By] January 12th, I wasn't on the court. Ryan got hurt two years ago. At times, Tyreke's out. At times, A.D.'s out. But I think with this year, because we simplified it, it's all going to be easier to where it does not matter who's on the court. All the schemes are the same. If you're in a position or if you're guarding a player, all of that is the same."
SI.com: Anthony is obviously a great player in his own right but when you were on the floor with him, he shot 57% from the field, almost 80% around the basket. What is it about your synergy and connection with him on the floor that allows for that?
Holiday: "I try to take some pressure off of him. I know as a point guard I've gotta get the ball to him when he wants it, where he likes it. But at the same time I know I can penetrate and get to the basket, take some pressure off him where his guy might help. If [the defender] doesn't help, I have a basket. Just in that way. Just trying to make the right plays. I do look for A.D. probably the most—if not A.D., Ryan. But you really just try to make a smart basketball play. A.D. is the go-to guy. Obviously, in one-on-one situations and all that, we want to give it to him. But to make it easy for him where I come off a screen and I attract his man and he's wide open, you've gotta get the man the ball."
SI.com: With playing more of an up-and-down style, it seems like it would give a wider variety of guys—yourself, Tyreke, Eric, Norris [Cole]—a chance to handle and push the ball. Do you find that to be the case?
Holiday: "For sure. I think it's more fun, where everybody gets to touch the ball. That's always a good feeling. Sometimes when it gets stagnant and you haven't touched the ball in two or three times down the court, that fourth time coming down the court you might shoot an ill-advised shot or something like that. When everybody gets to touch it and there's energy with the ball, and you get to hand it off and come off of screens and make plays for your teammates and then make plays for yourself, it keeps everybody happy."
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