CHICAGO -- This time last season, the New Orleans Pelicans were dealing with some newfound attention after Anthony Davis requested a trade from the franchise. The Los Angeles Lakers tried to get a deal done before the trade deadline, but the Pelicans stood pat, and instead opted to wait until the offseason to handle his trade request. Ultimately, Davis was traded to the Lakers and in return the Pelicans received a wealth of trade picks on top of a majority of Los Angeles' young core.
However, amidst all of the wheeling and dealing, that left Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday in a difficult spot. When Holiday signed a five-year, $126 million contract with the Pelicans in 2017, the roster still had Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on it, with the hope of building a future around those three players going forward. After Cousins signed with the Warriors and Davis was traded this summer, that just left Holiday on a team with a slew of young players, a group headlined by No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.
There was some optimism that this team could push for the playoffs at the start of the season. But that quickly vanished after Williamson underwent surgery that pushed back his NBA debut by three months, and the team got out to a horrendous 8-23 start.
It appeared as though the Pelicans would soon begin selling off pieces, including Holiday, who weren't part of their young core. Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets were linked to the 11-year veteran guard, but Thursday's deadline passed with Holiday still with the Pelicans, and while he could've demanded a trade himself, he's made it clear that he's committed to New Orleans.about Holiday, with a bevy of contending teams looking to pry him from the Pelicans. The
"I honestly feel like I'm built for this team, and the way that we've been able to come together has really been cool," Holiday told CBS Sports. "I feel like I'm committed to this team and the players. I know for me personally, I try not to let my teammates down, so every time I come out here I feel like I try to put on my hard hat and my armor and go out there and fight for them."
The Pelicans' recent turnaround might have something to do with Holiday's reported Bulls, Holiday was playing one-on-one with Jahlil Okafor and Jaxson Hayes. Some veterans might want to get iced down after shootaround and decompress, but Holiday stayed on the court with Hayes and Okafor for nearly 20 extra minutes., but he's also genuinely enjoyed building chemistry with this new cast of teammates. After shootaround in Chicago, when most of the Pelicans players were packing up to get back on the bus before their game against the
As one of the veterans on the team, Holiday has enjoyed watching this younger crop of players on the roster develop over the course of the season to the point where the Pelicans (22-31 after Saturday night's win over the Pacers) are now reasonably within reach of a playoff spot.
"It's been fun, just being able to grow together," Holiday said. "Going through tough times, like losing 13 straight and coming out of that and feeling like -- obviously there's an upside to that."
Since snapping that 13-game losing streak in December, the Pelicans have gone 16-9, and are currently 4 1/2 games out of the No. 8 seed in the West playoff race. Williamson is back (he is averaging 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and two assists a game since debuting late last month), and the Pelicans are sending a player to the All-Star Game with Brandon Ingram taking a huge leap in his third NBA season.
It's been an up-and-down season for the Pelicans, dealing with various injuries and building chemistry with an almost entirely new roster, but Holiday says that this team has finally found a groove and gotten into a rhythm at the right time in the season.
"With injuries it throws a rock in the pond, and sometimes there's ripple effects but to be able to come out of that as a team has been pretty good for us," Holiday said. "And then to have Zion come back is really encouraging. He's being super efficient around the rim, and one thing that I think he's done a lot better at is being able to guard smaller guards who are pretty quick."
Holiday's enjoyed having WIlliamson on the court, and while trade talks will likely still surround the veteran in the offseason, he's asserted that he's invested in this Pelicans team. New Orleans said before the trade deadline that it would take anto deal Holiday, but if this team is able to make the playoffs this season then those trade talks may dissipate and Holiday could finish out his contract in New Orleans before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022.