Jrue Holiday excited by Pelicans’ potential

Coming off an All-Star season, Jrue Holiday said he was taken aback when told by Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie that he had been traded to the Pelicans on the night of the NBA draft.

“Initially, it was like, ‘Wow, what’s kind of happening?’ ” Holiday said.

Then he started thinking about the players New Orleans had.

“You had Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith … Eric Gordon,” he said. “I was like, ‘Dang, we could be pretty good.’ ”

The trade, in which New Orleans also received second-round pick Pierre Jackson, became official Wednesday, the start of the NBA’s fiscal year. Holiday was introduced by the Pelicans on Friday night, fresh off his honeymoon after marrying U.S. soccer team member Lauren Cheney, whom he met in 2008 while the two were at UCLA.

The Pelicans coveted Holiday, who’s 6-foot-4 and athletic, because they feel he can compete with the elite point guards in the Western Conference — the Clippers’ Chris Paul, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the Spurs’ Tony Parker.

Former 76ers teammate Andre Iguodala said Holiday is the best on-the-ball defender in the NBA, which Holiday said is high praise because Iguodala is known for his defense against the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other top players.

Holiday said he is ready for the challenge.

“In the Western Conference,” he said, “you have to bring it every game.”

Holiday is convinced he’ll have help.

The Pelicans signed Tyreke Evans, a good friend who said the prospect of playing with Holiday piqued his interest in New Orleans.

“I’ve known Tyreke for a long time, and the chemistry is there,” he said. “I know how tough he is mentally.”

Known as a point guard who can score, Holiday averaged 17.7 points and 8.0 assists last season. But he said he’ll have to adjust to playing with Evans and Gordon.

“They are two guards who can score,” he said. “Obviously I’ll have to give them the ball.”

The Pelicans gave up this year’s No. 6 pick, which they used to select Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, and a top-five protected first-round pick next year. To some pundits, that was too high of a price. But Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps, who could not talk to Holiday until the trade became official, was beaming Friday about the possibilities with Holiday, Evans and his other acquisitions — centers Jeff Withey and Greg Steimsma and 3-point ace Anthony Morrow, along with small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, whom the team re-signed.

“We didn’t hesitate,” Demps said. “We did what we needed to bring him here, and we’re just excited. We think we have a good young core. ...

“Our core group is going into their fifth and sixth years in the NBA, and you add (last year’s No. 1 pick) Anthony Davis and the additions. We think we have some exciting times ahead, but we also know we have some hard work. We feel good about the prospects of watching them grow.”

Coach Monty Williams was in Las Vegas watching New Orleans’ Summer League team. But knowing the trade had become official, he stayed in contact with Demps.

“He is just thrilled,” Demps said of Williams, who does not often get too excited.

Holiday left after his freshman year at UCLA and was the 17th pick in the 2008 draft. He gained the starting job in March of his rookie year, when he averaged 8.0 points and 3.8 assists.

In 2010-11, he averaged 14.0 points and 6.5 assists as he played all 82 games. He fell to 13.5 points and 4.5 assists the next season before bouncing back with his All-Star year, which came in part because Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was injured.

But Holiday said he matured.

“I started listening more to my coaches,” he said.