Through two months of regular season NBA basketball, the New Orleans Pelicans have learned what they are without Zion Williamson, and what they are is a bad team. There was a sliver of optimism that the team’s leading guard, Jrue Holiday, would keep them afloat until Williamson’s return in the new year, but that hasn’t been the case.
In spite of the 19.4 points, 6.8 assists and career-high 1.8 steals Holiday has averaged in 36 minutes per game this season, New Orleans is tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the second-worst record in the league at 6-21. Holiday isn’t blameless in their underwhelming season, though. He’s had a hard time adapting to his new teammates — specifically Lonzo Ball, who he’s posted a -14.7 net rating and allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions with in the 335 minutes they’ve played together.
With the Pelicans seemingly headed towards a full-fledged rebuild, the team is listening to offers for Holiday, according to a report by Marc Stein of the New York Times on Tuesday. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Pelicans are in a rush to move on from longest-tenured and arguably best player but it does suggest he could be had for the right price.
Let’s take a look at some teams that could make a meaningful offer for Holiday and compete with him on their roster this season.
The Suns have been searching for a point guard to pair with Devin Booker since they drafted him with the No. 13 overall pick in 2015, and they finally made progress on that goal this past summer by signing Ricky Rubio to a three-year, $51 million deal.
In 21 appearances for the Suns, Rubio has averaged 13.6 points, 9.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Additionally, the two-man lineup of Rubio and Booker has posted a net rating of +7.8 in the 482 minutes they’ve played together. Overall, the Suns are -9.2 points worse per 100 possessions in lineups without Rubio.
But why stop there?
The Suns are just one game back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference and their starting center, DeAndre Ayton, will make his return from a 25-game suspension on Tuesday. If the Suns are going to make a splashy trade in an effort to end their 10-year playoff drought, Holiday should be at the top of their wishlist.
Holiday’s two-way play would be a perfect fit next to Booker, who’s made progress on the defensive end of the floor but still leaves a lot to be desired. Holiday is also more of a threat off the ball than Rubio is, even if his shooting percentages haven’t been much better than the Spaniard’s this season.
The Suns can feasibly build a deal around Tyler Johnson’s $19.2 million expiring contract, one of Mikal Bridges or Cameron Johnson and a future first-round pick. If that’s a package the Pelicans would consider, the Suns shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns are in a similar positions when it comes to playoff hopes, but the Timberwolves have arguably a higher ceiling with the core they have.
Yes, it’s true that the Timberwolves have gone 10-15 through the first two months of the NBA season — their worst start since the 2016-17 season — but they’re only a game and a half back of the eight seed Oklahoma City Thunder and have one of the three best centers in the NBA in Karl-Anthony Towns. Andrew Wiggins is also having a career-year for the Timberwolves, averaging a career-high 25 points per game on a career-high 55% true shooting percentage and posting a positive VORP (0.3) for the first time in his five-year career. The one area they could use a boost as is the point guard position, and Jrue Holiday would be a perfect addition.
Jarrett Culver has been serviceable for the Timberwolves since moving into the starting point guard spot in favor of veteran guard Jeff Teague last month, but the 20-year-old rookie hasn’t given Minnesota the boost they need to be a legitimate playoff contender. Not only would Holiday be an upgrade over Culver and Teague on offense, but he’d give the Timberwolves another perimeter defender to pair with Robert Covington.
A core of Holiday, Wiggins, Covington, Towns and Josh Okogie might not win a title this season, but they’d have a good chance of getting back to the postseason and would provide them with something to build on going forward. Meanwhile, Culver would fill the void left by Holiday in New Orleans and would be a more natural fit alongside Lonzo Ball than Holiday is in the backcourt — along with just generally fitting their timetable better than Holiday.
With the inflated contracts of Gorgui Dieng and Jeff Teague and their own first-round pick in 2020, the Timberwolves are in as good of a position as anyone to make a big for Holiday.
The Miami Heat are probably the most popular trade destination for Jrue Holiday, and rightfully so.
Miami already has two of the most switch-y defenders in the NBA in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and Holiday would make their top-10 ranked defense that much more fun to watch. The question is: Which pieces would the Heat give up for Holiday?
The Heat have no shortage of useful players on big contracts they can build a trade package for Holiday around, but the question is which of those pieces the Pelicans would value the most. Goran Dragic would be the best point guard on the Pelicans upon arrival, but New Orleans may not have any use for him beyond this season with three points guards — Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — so his expiring deal wouldn’t bring any long term value if re-signing him isn’t a priority. Justise Winslow would also be a great pickup for the Pelicans under normal circumstances, but his fit with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, who the Pelicans reportedly view as untouchable pieces, isn’t clear.
If the Heat are going to pry Holiday away from the Pelicans, they’ll likely have to include one of Dragic or Winslow, a salary filler like Meyers Leonard’s $11.2 million expiring contract, and one of their core young players — Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson or Kendrick Nunn. Is Holiday really worth all of that? In short, yes.
The Heat have a legitimate shot to make it out of the Eastern Conference this year, and adding a player like Holiday would only make their athletic starting five harder to run up and down the floor with. Holiday might not be a superstar, but he’d look like one with this iteration of the Heat.