The last time that the New Orleans Pelicans had a star player for sale, only one team was allowed in the store. Anthony Davis made it perfectly clear that he only wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA was robbed of the bidding war it had spent years waiting for.
Fortunately, the Pelicans are once again open for business. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Jrue Holiday is available, and unlike with Davis, nobody has cornered the market. Every team in the NBA can use a 20-point scorer who can play both guard spots and consistently makes All-Defensive teams. The cost of admission? A few valuable assets, and a willingness to accept the two years and approximately $53 million left on his deal beyond this season.
That is going to create a much more robust market than Davis ever had. Any team interested in winning will be interested in Holiday, but as the sweepstakes begin, five teams stand out as the best potential fits.
1. Miami Heat
Miami has a very rare combination of assets and ambition. They perpetually want to compete for championships, but their inability to do so for the past several years has stocked their war chest with valuable young players. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are off limits. Justise Winslow and Duncan Robinson? Probably not. Either could be long-term fits in New Orleans, with Robinson likely being the higher priority given his shooting and cheap contract.
Some teams would be afraid to trade such pieces. The Heat are not. If they are even in the vicinity of contention, they will go for it, as they did by trading for Goran Dragic in 2015. Dragic could serve as the primary salary filler of this deal, and as unlikely as a long-term deal between him and the Pelicans this summer would appear, he could at least serve as a sort of a developmental support structure for a host of young Pelicans that could benefit from consistent point guard play.
If the Heat chase Holiday, they have a chance to get him. The question, though, is how badly they'd want him in the first place.
Perimeter scoring isn't exactly a need for Miami. Jimmy Butler already commands an outsize number of possessions for a non-point guard, and Adebayo is getting there. Removing Robinson from the starting lineup limits its spacing. Removing Kendrick Nunn risks derailing the development of a potential future All-Star. Holiday's offensive utility in Miami would be fairly minimal.
Their defense could use a boost. Regression is coming when their opponents start hitting their open 3-pointers (of which they are making only 27.5 percent at the moment, per NBA.com), but the Heat have allowed only 99 points per 100 possessions during Winslow's minutes. His health fixes a lot of problems.
Miami has chips, but cashing them in now would have serious repercussions. Holiday has a player option for the 2021-22 season. Is an All-Star now worth cannibalizing the cap space that could be used to sign an MVP later? Miami's answer, historically, has been no, but the Heat have never been this close to a championship when facing that dilemma. If they believe Holiday would put them in a class with the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks, they will do all they can to secure his services.
2. Denver Nuggets
There is no simpler fit for Holiday than Denver. He would slide comfortably into the Gary Harris slot and provide modest but meaningful improvements in just about every area. He eases the scoring and creation burden on Jamal Murray and would be a flawless fit in Denver's aggressive pick-and-roll defense. The Nuggets' inability to stop scoring guards one-on-one cost them a second-round series against the Trail Blazers. Holiday solves that problem immediately.
He doesn't shoot as well as Harris, and Denver might eventually need to dedicate more resources to shooting at the forward spots if Nikola Jokic doesn't find his stroke again, but we're not talking about Markelle Fultz here. Teams aren't leaving Holiday open.
Harris would be the primary piece headed back to New Orleans, but it is unclear how valuable the Pelicans think he is. Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are both long-term keepers. Is Harris a big improvement over either, especially when his big contract (three years, $57M remaining on deal) is factored in? Denver would need to add more.
The Nuggets will start with some more disposable younger players. Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez and Torrey Craig would have steady roles on most teams. Denver's depth makes it hard to get them on the floor at all. New Orleans could find use for any of them, but would certainly ask for Michael Porter Jr. Denver's top prospect has been gathering dust on the bench for most of the season, but has sky-high upside despite his questionable fits alongside Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. What happens when Denver says no to that request will go a long way in determining where Holiday ends up.
Finances will play a role here as well. The Nuggets have never paid the luxury tax, and all indications suggest that they never will. They don't even have a G League team. Denver has barely any space underneath the tax as is. Holiday makes around $9 million more than Harris. In the short run, Mason Plumlee would likely need to be excised in the deal to keep the Nuggets under the tax line. When Murray's max contract kicks in this summer, the Nuggets would likely let Beasley, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant walk to help offset the cost.
Continuity has been the heart of Denver's recent success, and depth is the team's soul. Trading for Holiday would cut deeply into both. Ownership is Denver's biggest obstacle in making a deal.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
With Jeff Teague banished to the bench, the Timberwolves' starting backcourt of Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver is averaging only 17.6 points per game combined. Teague is the only Minnesota player averaging more than five assists, and the Wolves are ranked 23rd in defense. If any team on this list really needs Holiday, it's them.
The hypothetical trade is fairly easy to construct. Teague is the salary filler, and New Orleans would pick a lane to find its primary asset. If David Griffin is hellbent on retaining some semblance of competitiveness, Robert Covington fits on just about any team and is playing on a reasonable contract for two more years. If he wants to go for a full rebuild, Culver was just the No. 6 overall pick. Minnesota has the pieces to build pretty much any kind of deal the Pelicans might want.
The fit for the Wolves is pretty straightforward. The fit for Holiday, though, is a bit murkier. He typically plays better alongside a traditional point guard. Minnesota would acquire him with the idea of making him its point guard, and splitting the playmaking duties between him and the resurgent Andrew Wiggins. That's fairly underwhelming, and with Okogie entrenched in the rotation as well, that offense's spacing would be fairly cramped. Just because Karl-Anthony Towns can shoot nine 3s per-game doesn't mean he should.
If the Wolves could find a point guard who could shoot in a secondary deal, Holiday could vault Minnesota into the playoffs. For now, though, the roster has structural problems that Holiday can't fix on his own.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Eventually, the Bucks are going to have to reckon with two pretty glaring roster flaws. The first is that Eric Bledsoe shrinks in the playoffs. The second is that nobody on their roster outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo can consistently create shots late in games.
Holiday solves both problems. He was excellent throughout the 2018-19 playoffs. His clutch track record is mixed, but promising. In his last full season alongside Anthony Davis, Holiday shot over 50 percent from the field in league-defined clutch situations. He isn't going to carry the clutch load entirely, but he and Khris Middleton could Voltron their way into giving Milwaukee enough of a secondary threat to relieve pressure on Antetokounmpo.
The fit is seamless here as well. Antetokounmpo bares the brunt of the playmaking responsibilities as is. Holiday wouldn't change that. He would be playing with more spacing than he has ever known. He can fit in defensively anywhere.
But do the Bucks have enough to offer here? Maybe, but probably not. Indiana's 2020 first-round pick was a lot juicier before the season. A pick in the low-20s is a start, but it isn't prying Holiday. They owe their own picks in 2020 and 2022 elsewhere, so plying the Pelicans with picks isn't much of an option here either. The Bucks would have to hope that New Orleans likes one of its young role players, and hey, Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown certainly have value, but odds are, neither is netting a superstar. When you factor in the likely negative value Bledsoe's contract (4 years, $70M) carries, the asset hill seems too steep for the Bucks to overcome here. If anything, they make more sense as a Chris Paul destination.
5. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors acquired D'Angelo Russell for one simple reason: they could. That's all it took. When Door No. 1 is an All-Star and Door No. 2 is nothing, you take Door No. 1 even if you don't have much use for the All-Star in question. You can always find a use for him later, even if that use is a trade.
The same basic principle is at play here. Do the Warriors need Holiday? No. But they can't exactly use Russell either, and Holiday is better, so why not take the added value if it's offered even if it isn't needed?
Holiday is, obviously, a questionable fit in Golden State, but think of everything that Russell was meant to accomplish for the Warriors, provided they planned to keep him, and ask yourself if it isn't something Holiday could do better. The Warriors needed a second-unit ball-handler to weather the storm when Stephen Curry and Draymond Green go to the bench. Holiday does that. Golden State needed more shooters that were at least average enough to hit the open looks Curry's gravity creates. Holiday does that, too.
He also gives the Warriors perhaps the best defensive trio in basketball. If Klay Thompson is capable of defending small forwards (and aside from the LeBron's and Kawhi's of the world, his body suggests that he can), then the grouping of Thompson, Holiday and Draymond Green is downright terrifying. Holiday could theoretically protect Curry from ever taking on a defensive matchup Golden State isn't comfortable with. Yes, the fit is iffy. But if Russell is worth taking that chance, then Holiday certainly is. Curry, Thompson and Green will all be in their 30s next season. Having Russell's prime to look forward to is a nice luxury. It won't mean anything if it doesn't coincide with Golden State's core trio's.
The $117 million question here is whether or not this would interest New Orleans. Unlike the Warriors, the Pelicans do have plenty to gain by swapping a 29-year-old for a 23-year-old. Their window is years from opening. Russell played with Brandon Ingram in Los Angeles, so the Pelicans have some degree of intel on whether or not the pairing could work.
But accepting Russell would be tantamount to giving up on Lonzo Ball. Russell, unlike Holiday, is a true point guard, and likely couldn't function alongside Ball, especially with ball-dominant forwards in Ingram and Williamson on the roster as well. The Pelicans probably aren't ready to do that so soon after acquiring him no matter how badly he has struggled.
The irony of such a decision if the Pelicans were to make it, though, would be palpable. The Lakers gave up on Russell to clear space for Ball. Little could be humbling for the former No. 2 overall pick as seeing his place in New Orleans usurped by the point guard he once dethroned in Los Angeles. Fortunately for him, the odds of it happening are slim as can be.