SAN Miguel Corp. sports director Noli Eala has been hands-down the busiest man in the PBA in this offseason, wheeling and dealing players and draft picks for Barangay Ginebra, Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee.
So when he says something good about another team's moves, you better believe him.
"Air21 has now added depth to its lineup. Their good acquisitions made them a lot better than last year. Sa tingin ko, this team can't just be pushed [around]," said Eala after watching Ginebra escape with an 89-88 win over Air21 after John Wilson's late three-pointer failed to count for the Express.
Franz Pumaren acknowledges that he has more pieces to work with this season as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing first season as Air21 coach, where the Express failed to get a single win in 14 games in the all-Filipino Philippine Cup.
But to be successful, Pumaren said the foremost task is to whip the team into one cohesive unit.
"Of course, everybody knows we've acquired a lot of new faces in the team, so really, our new guys have to embrace the team's system. My team is still a work in progress because we really haven't played as one unit," said the former La Salle coach.
With the aggressive Lito Alvarez back to head the team's management staff, the Express have pulled off a couple of moves that strengthened their frontline, landing former top rookie pick Nonoy Baclao and Rob Reyes through trades as well as 6-8 rookie Yousef Taha from the draft.
The Express have also added the sweet-shooting Wilson and the high-flying Bonbon Custodio to its backcourt, which should make up for the preseason ACL injury suffered by guard Eric Salamat.
"Bonbon's got a high basketball IQ. At least, he can fill in the guard spot, which we badly need at this point," Pumaren said.