The Milwaukee Bucks paid a hefty price to get Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The NBA trade moratorium lifted on Monday, and it didn’t take long for the deals to come crashing through the gates. There was Dennis Schroder heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Paul joining the Phoenix Suns, the Detroit Pistons making an odd move under the radar, and, late Monday night, the Houston Rockets kicked off their fire sale by shipping Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Moments later, another trade somehow topped the RoCo swap, as the previously dormant Milwaukee Bucks came out of the woodwork with a deal for Jrue Holiday. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Bucks are sending Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and a small fortune of future draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans — a steep price to pay, even for a two-way player of Holiday’s caliber.
The exact amount of draft picks? Three future first-rounders, as well as two future first-round swaps.
3 1st round picks
2 1st round pick swaps
The Bucks needed to make a big move to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo he will be able to win a title heading into his final season under contract, but they also gave up a small mountain of draft picks to do so. The Pelicans, meanwhile, surrendered their best or second-best player to fully dive into the youth movement.
The question is, how did both sides fare in this exchange? Here are NBA Trade Grades for both teams.
Let’s start with the obvious: A Big 3 of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday is an absolutely terrifying blend of two-way talent. Even as he took a step backward from his career year in 2018-19, Holiday still put up 19.1 points, 6.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game on .455/.353/.709 shooting splits last season. Throw in his ability to guard multiple positions on the floor extremely well, and he’s a natural fit for a Bucks team that wants to win titles now.
If this is the move that convinces the Greek Freak to stay in Milwaukee, then it’ll ultimately be worth it no matter what.
Even so, it’s also not an ideal move, for a multitude of reasons. While Holiday is an upgrade on Regular-Season Eric Bledsoe, and would be a massive upgrade on Playoff Eric Bledsoe simply by showing up to the arena, he’s not the type of Chris Paul-esque creator Milwaukee really needed in the postseason, when the offense grinds to a halt and teams need a go-to bucket-getter. Giannis hasn’t proven to be that guy. Neither has Middleton. And it’s hard to see Holiday stepping into that role, which means Mike Budenholzer’s lack of adjustments and poor rotations could still doom this talented roster, even with the upgrade from Bledsoe to Holiday.
Shipping off Bled and the remaining three years of his salary is not a problem, but having to attach George Hill — who was necessary for salary-matching purposes — is a tough blow, depriving Milwaukee of backcourt depth, 3-point shooting, veteran poise and solid two-way play. Holiday is easily the best player changing hands in this deal, but the Bucks will miss Hill’s creation and 46 percent 3-point shooting off the bench.
And then there’s the cascade of draft picks Milwaukee just showered David Griffin with. No offense to Holiday, who has long been one of the NBA’s most underrated players, but giving up three first-rounders and two first-round swaps is a package worthy of someone like Anthony Davis, Paul George or James Harden, not Jrue Holiday. It’s one thing to show your franchise player that you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to win a championship. It’s another thing to set the entire draft cupboard on fire, strip naked and dance in the street by the light of the flames.
This kind of trade was a necessary evil for a franchise that wants and needs its two-time reigning MVP to sign that super-max contract. This move, combined with the next domino of the Bogdan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade, should guarantee Giannis stays put for the long haul.
But it also comes with a heavy price: the inability to add young, cost-controlled talent for basically the rest of Giannis’ prime. And if he does leave in free agency, the Bucks will be completely and categorically screwed. Don’t forget, Holiday has a $27.1 million player option for 2021-22, so if Giannis doesn’t sign that super-max, and if the 2020-21 campaign doesn’t result in a ring, this could all collapse pretty quickly with Holiday skipping town too.
Holiday may be a better player than Malcolm Brogdon, but it’s hard not to think of the unbelievably foolish decision to let him walk in 2019 free agency at an affordable price when this is the price they had to pay for a similar player type.
Milwaukee got the best player in this trade, and he could very well be the difference in winning a championship, but the poor asset management here cannot be ignored, because even with the favorable end result of landing Holiday, the only thing that can justify a trade like this is one or multiple championships.
New Orleans Pelicans
If you ever find yourself in a conversation with David Griffin, watch your pockets. Double-check your belongings every 10 seconds or so. And whatever you do, if he starts talking about first-rounders or pick swaps, grab your s**t and run for your life.
Holiday is a terrific two-way player, but squeezing three-first rounders and two first-round pick swaps out of the 30-year-old Holiday is absolutely absurd. The Pelicans have to eat the remaining three years and $54.4 million remaining on Bledsoe’s contract, as well as the two years and $19.6 million on Hill’s deal, but that’s literally the only (minor) downside here.
In short, Griffin cashed in on Holiday’s absolute max value with a trade that even NBA 2K wouldn’t have allowed.
At this point in time, it doesn’t appear there are any protections on the three(!!!) first-rounders New Orleans is pocketing. Whether Giannis leaves or not, those picks represent good value for a guy like Holiday, who could wind up being an expiring contract if he opts out next summer.
Even better, the Pelicans aren’t completely bottoming out just yet; Bledsoe and Hill are not as great as Holiday, but they’re still very good, entertaining players. New Orleans will still compete if Griffin keeps them, and he can always flip them elsewhere for further assets if their fit with the younger core doesn’t work out.
Aside from rookie phenom Zion Williamson, Most Improved Player Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes, the Pelicans now have their No. 13 pick in this year’s draft, their own picks through 2026, the Lakers’ 2021 pick (top-7 protected), a potential Lakers pick swap in 2023, a potential Lakers pick swap in either 2024 or 2025, and now three first-rounders and two more pick swaps from the Bucks. That is an abundance of riches to start a rebuild with, even as the Pels prepare to take a step back next year.