Jrue Holiday is ready to be the face of the New Orleans Pelicans.
After six years of serving as Anthony Davis’ understated sidekick, Holiday is embracing the change and challenge awaiting him. While having his image plastered on billboards and season ticket pamphlets isn’t anything Holiday asked for, it comes with his newfound territory, a position thrust upon him when Davis decided he no longer wanted to play for the Pelicans.
This is Holiday’s team, no matter who comes back to New Orleans in exchange for Davis. It’s a notion that never occurred to him previously, but admittedly it excites him now.
Yes, he knows about the mounting pressure beyond his on-court production. And he’s aware there will be new expectations and scrutiny, combined with blossoming fanfare and recognition.
It’s a major responsibility. And one Holiday is eager to shoulder.
“I’m going to go with it,” Holiday told The Advocate. “I’m excited to run with it. I guess I’d like to be more involved with decisions and decision-making moving forward. I’d like some sit down conversations with Mickey (Loomis), Mrs. B (owner Gayle Benson) and the new GM or Danny (Ferry) if he stays.
“Me and (coach Alvin) Gentry have a good relationship, and I can talk to him anytime. I’d like to have my opinion heard, and from there they can make the decision that they make. I want to help and I want to make this the best place it can be and I think I can help everyone.
Holiday said if management had asked him before, he would've been happy to help. Pelicans brass went instead to Davis.
"And that really makes sense when you think about it,' Holiday said, "but I guess that’s changing now.”
On and off the court, Holiday earned the opportunity this season, maintaining a stoic, professional persona and a workmanlike approach through the chaos of Davis’ demands, Dell Demps’ firing and endless line of losses.
His play carried an injured, beleaguered roster to a handful of wins over playoff teams like the Rockets, Jazz and Thunder in the wake of Davis’ gut-punching proclamation, providing the franchise with a glimmer of hope.
“Jrue is everything to us,” third-year forward Cheick Diallo said. “He’s a role model. And not just to me but the whole team. He makes us want to play harder because he is always playing so hard. It matters a lot. It really does.”
Throughout the organization — from ownership, to coaches, to analytics staff, to the equipment room — Holiday earned respect beyond his performance. His attitude provided a dignity into the team’s day-to-day proceedings, despite the turbulence.
After Davis’ bombshell announcement leaked from his agent to national media, Holiday was the first Pelicans employee to publicly address the situation, answering questions with clarity and poise while many in the organization declined to discuss the matter. He deftly toed the line between respectfully maintaining his friendship with Davis, while staking out the future of the organization.
And when the team took to the court, fans embraced Holiday and his undermanned unit, giving ovations for their effort, even in a handful of close losses.
“It’s cool to be in that kind of position,” Holiday said. “I just want to be the best I can be. And I want to win. I think that’s the ultimate goal for everyone, even more than the individual accolades. I put winning over that. So, whatever it takes.
“But it is definitely a good sign to see we have young guys here now and I think we have guys who play similar to the way I do. So, I think I can help be a part of building the kind of team people will be proud of and want to support.”
No, Jrue Holiday isn’t Anthony Davis.
He isn’t going to rack up first-team All-NBA honors and be a permanent fixture in the All-Star Game as he enters his 30s. But Holiday could be a different kind of franchise leader, capable of empowering a roster built around his strengths in a way Davis didn’t.
There’s not one precise way to build a successful team. With a new general manager atop the basketball operations and Holiday in tow, the future Pelicans could look vastly different from the Davis-era version.
A balanced, unselfish roster that plays hard every night and follows Holiday’s lead could provide the kind of stability this team has so often lacked. It’s not an easy path, and the likelihood of immediately high-level success currently seems remote, but Holiday is eager to give it a shot.
“Ever since I’ve been younger I’ve never known how to just lay down and let someone roll over you,” Holiday said. “When I’m on the court, I’m going to play. I think a lot of things I went through with being injured and the situation with my family put it in perspective what is important and seeing how playing this game is a blessing and is a gift.
“A lot of people don’t get the chance to do it at this level and have injuries they never fully come back from. I felt like it’s a bit of experience and some character and know to never take it for granted. So I’m never looking at it like it’s a burden. It’s an opportunity.”