The Pelicans have secured a proven point guard to feed All-Star big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, but they paid a hefty, hefty price to do so.
New Orleans has agreed to re-sign Jrue Holiday (15.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 3.9 RPG) to a five-year contract worth at least $126 million. The deal, which reportedly includes a player option on the final year, could rise to as much as $150 million if Holiday reaches unspecified incentives.
This is a classic “grit your teeth and begrudgingly pull the trigger” move for the Pelicans, who have spent the last five years struggling to acquire genuine talent to put around Davis. New Orleans had simply backed itself into a corner from a leverage standpoint: Holiday was the only worthwhile guard on last year’s roster, back-up Tim Frazier had already left for Washington, and a messy salary cap situation would have made it impossible for New Orleans to pursue a comparable replacement in free agency. The Pelicans had two choices: pay through the nose for the oft-injured Holiday or settle for a meaningful downgrade at a critical position.
As if Davis’s potential impatience with the franchise’s lack of progress wasn’t enough to worry about, New Orleans also faced an immediate ticking clock on Cousins’s 2018 free agency as soon as they landed him during the 2017 All-Star break. With just one playoff appearance during the Davis era and superstars changing squads left and right, the oft-overlooked Pelicans found themselves needing to pay Holiday as much for his symbolic value as his actual skills. If he had walked out the door for nothing, the Cousins trade talk would have ramped up, Davis trade talk wouldn’t have been far behind, and both GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry would have faced renewed questions about their futures. That’s all very messy, and this deal certainly helps avoid—or at least delay—those conversations.
But there’s a big difference between a deal a team feels it needs to make and a good deal, and there’s really no way to call this a good deal. Holiday, 27, has missed 37% of New Orleans’s games over the past four seasons combined due to a series of injuries and he’s losing his match-up more often than he’s winning it in the loaded Western Conference. This contract carries him through his age-31 season and grants Holiday the ability to opt into what will be a massive fifth-year salary if recurring injuries continue to limit him.
That Holiday got both a five-year term and the option reveals New Orleans’s desperation, not to mention that his baseline average annual salary ($25.2 M) will dwarf fellow 2017 early signees Jeff Teague ($19 M) and Patty Mills ($12.5 M). One suspects that these terms might look even worse once this summer’s other comparable point guards—guys like Kyle Lowry and George Hill —go off the market.
Holiday is a complete player, mixing good size and length, quality scoring instincts, playmaking ability and positive defensive impact. There were some promising signs for the Davis/Cousins/Holiday trio last year, as they posted a +2.8 net rating together compared to New Orleans’s -1.6 net rating overall. But New Orleans has precious little margin for error or injury next season and they are now committed to compensating their good point guard as if he’s a superstar.
The Pelicans’ playoff formula now relies on near-perfect health for all three players, and even in a best-case scenario it’s difficult to envision New Orleans being competitive in a first-round series against one of the West’s top three teams.
While this signing isn’t a disaster a la Omer Asik or some of Demps’s other greatest hits, there’s no way to frame this as a win. Losing Holiday would have been far worse, but keeping him at this price and for this length should inspire only gulps rather than cheers.