NLEX sticking by Taulava, aims to sign Blatche as import
MANILA, Philippines - The NLEX Road Warriors have no plans of letting go of big man Asi Taulava.
NLEX team manager Ronald Dulatre told Rappler on Thursday, December 11, that Taulava will remain in a Road Warriors uniform despite rumors circulating that he could possibly end up with sister team Talk 'N Text.
NLEX and TNT are two of the PBA teams under the stewardship of business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan.
"No, definitely that's not true," Dulatre said about the Asi-to-TNT rumors. "He'll stay with us for the next two years."
Taulava averaged 16.7 PPG and 10.9 RPG in the Philippine Cup.
Despite finishing with a 4-6 record - good for 10th place in the standings - in their first conference since changing their name from Air21 and getting eliminated in day one of the Philippine Cup playoffs, NLEX plans to return with the same lineup in the Commissioner's Cup conference, which begins in the last week of January 2015.
The team also doesn't plan on signing more veterans to the roster, as they hope to develop some of the younger talents they have on their roster.
"Definitely we'll have an intact lineup next conference," said Dulatre. "It's better for us to get younger, cause we know there are some veterans ready to give some points to the younger talents."
Since they were one of the four teams with the worst records in the Philippine Cup, NLEX will have the advantage of acquiring an import for the Commissioner's Cup without having to worry about a height limit.
"That's our next assignment. We'll look for an import who can help us. We're in the bottom four, meaning there's no height limit. We'll take advantage," Dulatre said.
"There are some names that were submitted to me yesterday. We'll start to evaluate, we'll start to look which import will fit."
Outside of the Road Warriors' list of candidates, the team also plans to recruit former NBA big man Andray Blatche, who was the best player of Gilas Pilipinas in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 21.2 PPG and 13.8 RPG in five games against some of FIBA's higher-ranked teams like Greece, Croatia, Argentina, Senegal, and Puerto Rico as the team's naturalized player.
Throughout his nine-year NBA career - split between tenures with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards - Blatche put up career averages of 10.1 PPG and 5.4 RPG.
NLEX did not have any reliable scorers in the post outside of Taulava this past conference, so signing Blatche would be a major boost. However, there are many challenges to doing so.
"I'm thinking about that (signing Blatche)," said NLEX head coach Boyet Fernandez following his team's 82-78 loss to the Alaska Aces on Thursday.
"But you know there's a rule: if you're going to get Blatche, i-rereto mo muna sa ibang teams. Eh kung kukunin ko pa yun [tapos] ibibigay sa ibang teams, hahanap na lang ako nang iba," he referred to one of the rules to acquire Blatche as an import.
(You have to ask permission from other teams. If I try to get him then he'll just be given to another club, I might as well look for other options.)
Fernandez says if not Blatche, he hopes to bring in a "European or US-born" import who has diverse skills and can complement the abilities of his teammates.
"Right now we're thinking about a guy who can be agile, both he can play a little bit of wing, but more important could help Asi in the post. So we're looking for a guy who can play the four position, so hopefully we can find a guy who can play defense a little bit if [Taulava] is resting or Enrico (Villanueva) is resting."
"But if [we sign] Blatche, that would be good because he's fit with the dribble-drive system."
Despite their 4-6 finish and early elimination, both NLEX's team manager and head coach were pleased with their team's performance in their first conference.
"Well, for the first appearance of NLEX, I could say we showed a good conference during our maiden conference. Yes, we fell short, but only in the endgame," Dulatre said.
"Well, even though we failed to make it farther into the playoffs, I'm happy that [we were] qualified in the quarterfinals," Fernandez said, before later adding: "I told my boys 'we will be back, we will be ready in the second conference.'"
"Yes, definitely, definitely. We'll come back the next conference as a stronger team," said Dulatre.