The theme was easy to spot.
Jrue Holiday is about family.
And to him, signing a five-year, $126 million deal to remain with the New Orleans Pelicans felt like staying with his family.
“The city of New Orleans has definitely embraced us ever since we’ve been here,” Holiday said during Thursday night’s NEWS conference, which happened minutes after he officially signed his new contract.
“Obviously my family has been through a little bit of a hiccup, and the organization definitely helped take care of us. So coming back here was an easy choice, and I’m glad we can come here for the next five years.”
The hiccup Holiday referred to was a brain tumor suffered by his then-pregnant wife, former United States soccer star Lauren Holiday, which caused him to miss training camp and the first 12 games of the 2016-17 season on personal leave.
Lauren, now healthy, was in attendance at the Pelicans’ facility Thursday night, holding the couple’s daughter, J.T. She sat next to Holiday’s two brothers (Chicago Bulls guard Justin Holiday and UCLA guard Aaron Holiday), his sister, sister-in-law and parents, ensuring the theme of family went beyond words.
From the right angle, it looked more like a Christmas card shoot than a news conference.
And it illustrated why the organization publicly backed Holiday’s decision to remain in North Carolina with Lauren last year, never questioning him — even as the team slumped to a 2-10 start in his absence.
“Obviously it was a little bit of a basketball decision (to re-sign), but I know for me and my family that a big part of what we want out of an organization is to feel like family,” Holiday said. “So, when they supported me in that way, to take care of my family first, it made this kind of easy.”
The $126 million and a player option for a fifth season, which no other franchise could offer, also help. As do some lofty incentives which could inflate the contract to $150 million if he reaches them.
But on Thursday night, Holiday kept coming back to the team’s loyalty and support.
He said the feeling stretches from the upper reaches of the organization down to the locker room. It was embodied when several teammates prodded, provoked and pestered him to re-sign throughout the past few months, ensuring he never doubted how coveted his return was.
“I can’t get into a couple of specifics because they might have been threats, but whatever,” Holiday joked. “It was pretty much, ‘We want you back,’ and they said they can’t do it without me, and I was obviously part of the family and a big piece of the puzzle. So I guess when you’re wanted, it makes you feel better.”
General manager Dell Demps never hid his desire to keep Holiday. Ever since the Pelicans added All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins in a blockbuster trade, the team built a campaign around Anthony Davis, Holiday and Cousins as the franchise’s “big three.”
Both Holiday and Demps mentioned the three-man core as the team’s potential pathway through a rugged Western Conference, even though New Orleans went just 11-14 with the trio in tow (7-10 when all three played).
However, there was a three-week stretch in March when the Pelicans reeled off eight wins in 11 games, proving to Holiday and Demps the potential for much more was in place.
It just had to maintain the pieces.
“In that second half of the year, when we got DeMarcus, it felt very consistent,” Holiday said. “Rotations, guys off the bench, starters all played a factor because once we started to gel I could really see this going well. Obviously in previous years we had injuries, and that hasn’t helped us. But moving forward, all I really see is how we meshed last year and how fun it was to win.”
And for at least one season, the Pelicans will have an opportunity to see how the trio can perform together.
“You could see the potential there and you could see it coming together,” Demps said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the guys work out together in the offseason and get to training camp prepared.”
Now Holiday finds himself quickly shifting from the pursued to the pursuer. With Cousins’ free agency on the horizon at the end of next season, and Holiday now signed to the team’s longest contract, he was asked when he’ll turn the tables and make the sales pitch across the locker room.
“I’ve already started,” Holiday said. “Y’all can probably guess who the guy who threatened me was.”