METAIRIE, La. — Jrue Holiday says his new five-year contract with the Pelicans thrusts him into the role of helping persuade All-Star centre DeMarcus Cousins to make a similar long-term commitment to New Orleans.
"I’ve already started" lobbying Cousins, Holiday said Thursday night after signing his new contract, which his agent, Jason Glushon, has said is worth $126 million, and could balloon to $150 million with incentives.
Up until NBA free agency began July 1, Cousins was among a number of Pelicans players urging Holiday to stay in New Orleans, where he has played since 2013.
"They were definitely hounding me — in a good way," Holiday said, jokingly adding that there "might have even been threats."
"But whatever. It was pretty much, ‘We want you back.’ They were saying they couldn’t do this without me."
General manager Dell Demps reiterated that Holiday was New Orleans’ "No. 1 priority in free agency."
"We believe his best days are in front of him," Demps added.
Demps needs to be right about the 27-year-old Holiday if the Pelicans are to amount to much in the talent-rich Western Conference.
Holiday averaged 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 67 games last season. During his eight-year NBA career, the former UCLA standout has averaged 14.3 points and 6.2 assists.
Demps has said he sees the 6-foot-4 Holiday’s value in his leadership and his versatility. Holiday is proficient at either guard spot and Demps gave a nod to Holiday’s defensive acumen when he described him as a consummate "two-way player."
Holiday, meanwhile, alluded to a lot of unfinished business in New Orleans and the importance of the relationships he’s built there.
A nagging lower-leg injury sidelined him for much of his first two seasons with the Pelicans. He was healthy for most of his third season, albeit while playing under minute restrictions, but a collision that fractured his eye wall caused him to miss the final weeks of that campaign.
Last season, he missed training camp and the first 12 regular-season games while taking a leave of absence to tend to his wife, former U.S. national soccer team player Lauren Holiday, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour while pregnant. Their first child, a daughter, was born healthy, after which Lauren Holiday had surgery to remove the benign tumour. Jrue Holiday said the Pelicans’ support during that time played a considerable part in his decision to stay.
"Obviously, my family has been through a little bit of hiccup," Holiday said. "The organization and Dell, as well, has helped take care of us as a family. Coming back here was an easy choice."
Holiday added that he did feel he would be "disappointing a lot of people" he cared about if he left for another team. He added that he’s seen "a lot of good teams grow together — go through ups and downs."
There was a family theme to Holiday’s contract signing at team headquarters. Holiday was joined not only by his wife and daughter, but also his parents, both brothers, his sister and Glushon, his agent.
Now, Holiday said, he expects to be able to spend an entire summer training hard for the first time in several years and is looking forward to his first full training camp in more than three seasons, leading him to concur with Demps that his best basketball lies ahead.
Holiday said he also senses that a promising stint late last season in which the Pelicans won eight of 11 games offered only a glimpse of what the Pelicans could accomplish with their All-Star front court of Anthony Davis and Cousins, the latter having been acquired in a trade after the 2017 All-Star game and still developing chemistry with his new teammates. Therefore, he didn’t necessarily feel the need to leave in order to win, even though the Pelicans have made the playoffs only once — and haven’t won a playoff game — in his first four seasons with the club.
"Once we started to jell, I was like, ‘Man, I could really see this going well," Holiday said. "Obviously, previous years we had injuries and that hasn’t helped us, but moving forward all I see is kind of how we meshed last year and how fun it was to win."