MANILA, Philippines – Uncertainty surrounds NLEX following the untimely exit of import KJ McDaniels as the PBA Governors’ Cup playoffs loom.
Even head coach Yeng Guiao is clueless of how things will pan out for the Road Warriors despite their impressive 8-3 record after the former NBA standout played his final game with the team on Friday, March 4.
McDaniels helped NLEX secure a playoff bonus in a 115-103 win over Barangay Ginebra, but the Road Warriors will have to adjust to life without him as he returns to the United States to be with his pregnant partner.
“I don’t know how to say it but if there’s anything that can convince KJ to stay, we would do it. But his family is really first priority,” said Guiao.
“He wants to be bedside when his girlfriend gives birth so we cannot take that away from him.”
“But we’ll be missing a lot. We don’t know how we will play without him because we’ve gotten so used to him, not just the way he plays the game but he’s gotten close to a lot of the players.”
McDaniels, whose most memorable NBA stints came with the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets, provided immediate impact as NLEX won its first four games.
The Road Warriors lost three straight but regained their bearings with McDaniels leading the way and wrapped up the eliminations with another four-game winning streak capped by their comeback victory over defending champion Gin Kings.
Individually, McDaniels has been a beast.
As of publication time, McDaniels – a strong contender for the Best Import honors – ranks second in the league in points with 35.2, first in blocks with 2.8, eighth in steals with 1.6, and 10th in rebounds with 11.5.
“He’s really been settling down and then now he needs to go. We really regret seeing him go,” Guiao said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“But we have to move on after KJ and hope that we’re still able to play well. That’s life. We just have to roll with the punches, we just have to make the adjustment.”
McDaniels told team management earlier that he is bound to leave the country this March with his partner expecting a baby.
NLEX still pushed through with him as its import, knowing the Governors’ Cup will have already ended before McDaniels needed to return to the United States.
However, the one-month conference postponement in January caused by the rise in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila threw a monkey wrench into the Road Warriors’ plans.
Now, the Governors’ Cup is scheduled to end in April, with the playoffs not starting until the third week of March.
“We cannot blame him, we cannot say anything about that because family’s a priority for him.”
Guiao can only have his fingers crossed that replacement import Cameron Clark could perform as well as McDaniels, or at the very least, complement the NLEX locals who have been playing terrifically.
Clark, who has seen action in Germany, Turkey, and France, is already in the country and has a week to acclimatize himself with the Road Warriors before the quarterfinals roll out.
“[We’ve] adjusted to KJ and KJ has also adjusted to the system and that took a lot of time and effort. Now, it seems like we’re back to square one with our import,” Guiao said.
“But we have no choice so we just have to compress all of that in that one week that is our preparation time.” – Rappler.com