Playoff success for Jrue Holiday result of rare patience in professional sports

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Published: April 25, 2018

A nation has rediscovered who Jrue Holiday is now that the New Olreans Pelicans have become the only team to sweep their opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Holiday dominated on both ends of the floor, proving to be a handful for Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum, who are considered an elite backcourt in the NBA.

It’s easy to see why so many are taking notice of Holiday since the playoffs began. His defense has been physical and smothering. Offensively Holiday is playing well above his career average in scoring in the playoffs, logging in 27.8 ppg. as compared to 19 ppg. for his career. Not only are the numbers making his case, but Holiday is dominating with authority, driving into opponents and pointing at them after the finish. It’s like watching a playoff Russell Westbrook that can defend, but also keep his offensive game under smooth control. There’s a lot of power in his drive and yet an element of finesse in his finish.

For those of us watching the games, we know Holiday didn’t just arrive overnight and that he has been very good for New Orleans this season. In the months of December, January and February Holiday averaged over 20 ppg., and he never averaged below 15 ppg. any month this season. What is even better, he averaged seven or more assists each month since February. Truly, Holiday has been doing it all for this team.

The game that knocked the Blazers out in four, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday combined for a whopping 88 points for one of the greatest postseason duo efforts of all time.

Considering all the factors of the recent past, the Pelicans are lucky to have this guard who is now turning in elite performances.

Jrue has had a very tough road leading up to this moment. He arrived in New Orleans via trade hurt following the season he was selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star in 2013, and stayed under 100 percent healthy for about three seasons. During this period, he also had to adjust to two different head coaches with drastically different systems.

The last time New Orleans loved a point guard, they loved Chris Paul. Holiday is not Chris Paul. He was an attacking point guard being asked to be a distributor for a young Davis and Eric Gordon at shooting guard. His health and new role threw his game off, while we still saw flashes from time-to-time of who he really was.

The last time Holiday made national headlines before these playoffs was a season ago for the challenge his family faced while off the court. His wife Lauren, diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant with their first child, needed an oppression. Holiday bravely stepped away from basketball during the process, and the team ownership under Tom and Gayle Benson supported the Holidays by paying him a full salary and reserving his place with the teams.

This act in itself is a rare act of loyalty and understanding for a professional sports team fighting to stay relevant in a high stakes competitive arena. Not even Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, saw that kind of treatment with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL when he missed an entire season with a neck injury. As we all know, Manning went on to win a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in his stint with his second team after being released.

In the absence of winning, most of the criticisms about Holiday were more about criticizing GM Dell Demps for giving up first round draft picks over the next five seasons, which, by the way, those picks have not amounted very much so far. In Demps’s mind, his resources are limited compared to most GMs around the league so the philosophy is that any time you can land star power in a small market you do it. Trading is the best vehicle in this atmosphere.

While many forgot or gave up on Holiday, the main person that did not give up on the potential of Holiday was Demps. The idea of giving Holiday a $125 million contract for five years was not popular with both fans and media. Many were haunted by the former long term deals that Demps had handed to centers Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik. Names like George Hill were thrown out as possible Holiday re-placements by fans that feared the long term deal. However, as the public lost their trust in Holiday and Demps, their trust in each other became solidified.

Instinctive deals can make or break your franchise in today’s insanely lucrative world of professional sports. This leads to split second decisions and relationships, even with stars, that get cut abruptly. Last offseason we saw Blake Griffin sign a 5-year $171 million deal with the Clippers only to be traded to Detroit this season, despite Los Angeles still having to pay Griffin $215,000 for four years due to a 15 percent trade kicker. We all know that a lack of loyalty also landed the Pelicans Sacramento’s face-of-the-franchise DeMarcus Cousins for a developing rookie Buddy Hield and pieces.

Philly’s #TrustTheProcess model is how Holiday ended up in New Orleans. After years of what appeared as tanking, critics are praising what is Sixers first signs of positive results this season. The Process was brutal. Holiday, Nerlins Noel and Jahil Okafor are all no longer a part of it. Ironically, though the Philly model and NOLA model are opposite sides of the spectrum, they have produced similar results. We may be awful now, but it will all be worth it in the end. 

Though New Orleans and Philadelphia are both winners this season, there’s something refreshing about the old school nature of the way the Pelicans have done business and it appears to be a mark of the Benson, or even Mickey Loomis and Demps, model. This is a place that will invest in you and believe in you. No corporate fake speak, let’s get personal.

When it comes to offseasons, a lot of focus seems to fall on what organizations need to do but players have to protect themselves as well. Money and media access can be great, but what about trust? What the Pelicans organization seems to have demonstrated is that patience and trust is highly valued, and that plays a factor with these players. It seeks to a creative guy like Rajon Rondo, or to players like Darius Miller and Emeka Okafor looking to re-enter the league and produce.

In an atmosphere that seems to be ever fleeting, patience and trust may be the Pelicans’ best secret weapon.

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