- By Sean Highkin For the AJC
CHICAGO — When Justin Holiday signed a two-year deal with the Hawks in the summer of 2015, he had yet to establish himself as an NBA rotation player. He’d bounced around among several teams, the D-League and overseas. Even in that lone half-season in Atlanta, he was traded.
On Thursday, Holiday faced off against his former team as a member of the Bulls, helping them beat the Hawks 91-86 at the United Center. He finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
This time around, Holiday isn’t a scrappy fringe rotation player looking to make a name for himself — he’s a consistent starter and one of the veteran leaders on a young, rebuilding team. And he enjoys playing against his former team.
“It’s like that with everybody,” Holiday said after the game. “When you go back and play the teams you played for, you want to beat them bad. But I like seeing those guys. They’ve been good to me.”
Holiday is averaging career highs in points (17) and rebounds (5.5) per game this season with the Bulls while shooting 35.5 percent from three-point range, taking full advantage of his newfound freedom with the Bulls. He’s becoming the player Atlanta envisioned when the took a flier on him in 2015.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who had a front-office decision-making role with the team at the time of the Holiday signing, isn’t surprised that he’s blossoming in Chicago after signing a two-year, $9 million free-agent deal this summer.
“I think it is a little bit unique,” Budenholzer said of Holiday’s unconventional journey to NBA starter status. “But just the human that he is, he’s got such high character and such a hard worker. So for him to take on a leadership role, it fits. I think most leaders lead by example, and Justin’s certainly capable of doing that. When he speaks, you feel that. Whether he’s on our team in the role he was in with us, or the role that he’s in with this team. When he speaks, people listen, including me as a coach. I’m a big fan.”