Jrue Holiday has joined All-Star Anthony Davis in making a long-term commitment to the New Orleans Pelicans. If all goes as the Pelicans plan, former University of Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins ultimately will follow suit.
At the very least, the small-market Pelicans are now in position to play one full season with their own version of a “big three.”
The 27-year-old Holiday, who became an unrestricted free agent at midnight on Friday, agreed Saturday morning to a five-year, $126 million contract with New Orleans. Holiday’s agent, Jason Glushon, said the deal could be worth as much as $150 million with incentives such as being named an All-Star or All-NBA, or hitting various statistical benchmarks.
Holiday has spent the past four seasons with New Orleans since being acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, where he spent his first four seasons. Because Holiday last played for New Orleans, NBA rules allowed the Pelicans to offer him a five-year contract, one year more than other teams.
The 6-foot-4 Holiday averaged 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 67 games last season. During his eight-year NBA career, the former UCLA standout has averaged 14.3 points and 6.2 assists.
The New Orleans Pelicans have not yet acknowledged Holiday’s new contract; NBA rules prevent those deals from becoming official until July 6. However, Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps and Coach Alvin Gentry have made no secret of their strong desire to retain Holiday as the initiator of an offense featuring big men Davis and Cousins.
“He’s very much a part of what we need and what we’re trying to do,” Gentry said last spring, when the expiration of Holiday’s previous contract was looming. “That goes without saying.”
Holiday is coming off his first healthy season with New Orleans after missing most of his first two and parts of his third. However, he took leave last fall when his wife, former U.S. Soccer star Lauren Holiday, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant. The Pelicans were hopeful that the support they provided him while he attended to his family would help sway him to stay.
The 24-year-old Davis has four more seasons under contract with the Pelicans, but the 26-year-old Cousins has just one year left on his.
Cousins, who was traded by Sacramento to New Orleans shortly after last season’s All-Star game, has spoken highly of his experience playing with the Pelicans so far. He average 24.4 points and 12.4 rebounds in 17 games after the trade, even though he was playing through a sore Achilles and adjusting to new personnel and a different scheme.
The Pelicans were unable to make a successful playoff push, but also showed promise during an 11-game stretch in which they won eight games, several over teams which were playoff bound.
Gentry had expressed hope that if Holiday could be retained and have an entire training camp of work with Davis and Cousins, the trio would be far more formidable next season and put New Orleans in position to contend for a first playoff berth since 2015.
“I just think that if we can get through one training camp where everything is in place and obviously injury-free, and we’re able to play and we’re able to grow and get better, I think we can be pretty doggone good,” Gentry said.
Now the Pelicans know they’ll get a chance to prove Gentry’s point this season. And how that turns out could influence whether Cousins makes the same long-term commitment to New Orleans that Holiday and Davis have.
“We really set ourselves up for the future,” Demps said after last season. “I think DeMarcus is going to be an impact player here for a long time.”