The Pelicans indicated in recent weeks that Holiday’s name was being mentioned in trade talks, and the 2013 all-star guard will enter this season on a legitimate contender for the first time in his 11-year career.
After a disappointing second-round exit in the bubble playoffs, Bucks ownership met with Antetokounmpo to assure their franchise player that they were committed to winning. While the Bucks were unable to deliver on rumored interest in Chris Paul, who was traded Monday from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Phoenix Suns, they secured Holiday to add another two-way impact player to a core that includes Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
This deal accomplishes multiple objectives for the Bucks. First, it signals to Antetokounmpo that he will be back in the title mix this season as he weighs his options before possibly becoming a free agent in July.
If trading for Holiday helps convince Antetokounmpo to sign a five-year supermax contract before the Dec. 21 deadline, it will be worth the steep price in draft assets. If not, the Bucks could find themselves without Antetokounmpo or Holiday next season, as the latter is owed $26.1 million this season and holds a $27 million option for 2021-22. In that scenario, which would necessitate a full-scale rebuild, parting with so many picks could prove to be disastrous.
From a basketball standpoint, adding Holiday gives the Bucks, who ranked first in defensive efficiency last season, an all-defensive on-ball stopper with playoff experience. He should prove especially helpful in possible postseason matchups with Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Boston’s Kemba Walker and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. What’s more, the trade clears out Bledsoe, whose annual postseason struggles were a major factor in Milwaukee’s last two playoff exits.
The Pelicans valued Holiday as a locker room leader and floor general, but he was significantly older on a young roster that includes Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes. Bledsoe can help fill Holiday’s minutes in the short term, while the 23-year-old Ball should be given every opportunity to take the next step in his career. Hill, a playoff-tested veteran with two years and nearly $20 million remaining on his contract, could emerge as a possible trade chip for New Orleans.
The Pelicans, who finished 13th in the West last season after a disappointing run in the Disney World bubble, replaced Coach Alvin Gentry with Stan Van Gundy this offseason. Their best-case scenario this season with Holiday was likely to finish as the seventh or eighth seed and go out in the first round. Without Holiday, a similar fate remains possible if Williamson can remain healthy and show major progress in his second season. Given those circumstances and New Orleans’ rosy long-term picture, the cache of incoming draft picks from the Holiday trade more than justifies the increased risk of missing the 2021 playoffs.