Jrue Holiday returns to Pelicans, with his family's blessing

— -- METAIRIE, La. -- Jrue Holiday couldn't hide his enthusiasm after first practice with the New Orleans Pelicans this season.

Holiday spent the past three months tending to his wife, former USWNT soccer player Lauren Holiday, as she recovered from their birth of the couple's daughter and surgery to remove a benign tumor from the right side of her brain. He said he was "excited" to play in his first game this season, Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

But he was more thrilled that his wife's recovery was far enough along that both felt comfortable with his return.

Asked why he was returning now, Holiday said, "Because my wife said I could.

"It was really just to see where my wife was in her recovery. And since she's doing so well, and since my daughter's getting bigger, and since my family and her family are there to help her out with anything, if it's on the road or whatever it is, I just feel comfortable being back and being able to leave them if it's on a road trip or whatever it is. As hard as it is, again, I'm really excited."

Holiday respectfully declined to give specifics on his wife's condition following surgery in late October, or where she and their daughter, Jrue Tyler Holiday, will stay during the season. But Holiday, 26, said he feels comfortable being away given her support system. FaceTime will allow him to see his family's progress during Pelicans road trips.

"She should be doing well," Holiday said. "Again, she has to start rehabbing and things like that. Obviously, when somebody goes into your brain there's things that happen where you might feel weird for a minute, or whatever it is. But from there, she's just gonna take care of my daughter, and from there take care of herself as well. She let me come back. So I'm happy."

The Holidays found out about Lauren's condition this summer, and relocated to the Raleigh, North Carolina, area near the Duke University medical specialists who handled the surgery.

"My wife was, I think, four or five months pregnant, and all of a sudden she found out she had a tumor," Holiday said. "Because she has another person in her, obviously there are things she couldn't do for them to know what type of tumor it was or how serious it was."

Holiday said he was able to see people's "true colors" in such trying times, and the reaction from fans and the Pelicans organization has left him feeling "blessed." He said the Pelicans, from whom he has received constant communication and support, have been open to him taking a day off should he need it.

"She has great fans who support her through soccer internationally or through her faith," he said. "I mean, just on Twitter, every day people are always saying they're praying for her, and they're in her prayers and support. Same thing for me. Again, so many people since I've been back, they don't even ask how I'm doing, they ask how my wife's doing. And to me, that's awesome. That just shows how great people are around us."

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said that there's a good chance Holiday, a regular starter, won't be in the starting lineup on Friday as he re-acclimates to game conditions. Gentry said he will discuss the situation with Holiday at shootaround.

"This is one of those times where it wasn't a physical injury, so he's been dying to get out there to play," Gentry said. "It's going to be fine. Obviously it's going to take a little while for him to get his timing back from a basketball standpoint. I think he's in really good shape conditioning-wise and everything, but you have to actually participate and play in games to get your basketball timing."

Holiday has maintained his conditioning by working out with assistant coach Jamelle McMillan and a strength and conditioning coach while away.

The 2-10 Pelicans are in last place in the Western Conference, but Holiday said he's encouraged by what he's seen.

"I don't think our record shows how good we are," Holiday said. "I do think we have a lot of effort there and obviously there are some games where we were there at the end of the game and we had it won but some things that we have to clean up at the end of the game to seal the deal.

"I can do whatever they want me to do, if it's cheerlead, hand out Gatorades, play defense, call a set, whatever it is. I'm just here to help."

Holiday was limited to a combined 74 games in his first two seasons in New Orleans because of right leg injuries, but he broke through in 2015-16, averaging 16.8 points and six assists and a career-high 19.7 player efficiency rating in 65 games. His season was cut short after he fractured an orbital wall of his right eye during a game.

"I'm so excited," Holiday said. "At the end of it my teammates are always there for me. My teammates and the Pelicans were always there. To come back and fight for them like they supported me, I'm happy to do it."