JUDGING from Meralco’s struggle in the paint in a practice game against a bigger and bulkier Barako Bull, the Bolts definitely need veteran Asi Taulava and his 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame if they hope to come up with a stronger showing in the PBA season kicking off on September 30.
Taulava, still without a contract, showed up in street clothes on Wednesday for the pro league’s very first preseason game the Bolts won, 103-98 over the Energy Boosters at the Meralco gym in Pasig City. He spent the game sitting next to new Bolts manager Butch Antonio.
Without Taulava’s imposing presence in the middle, the Energy Boosters easily gobbled up the Bolts’ early 16-point cushion to take a 75-70 lead entering the final period.
The Bolts, though, rode on the high-scoring trio of Mac-mac Cardona, Fil-Am rookie swingman Cliff Hodge and Sol Mercado in the final period to beat a still out-of-shape Barako Bull squad.
“With Asi taking a rest, obviously, we struggled inside. He left a vacuum in the paint. But we’re excited because Asi already made a verbal commitment to play for us again this season,” Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio told Spin.ph shortly after the game.
Antonio had earlier said that management already offered Taulava a two-year contract extension, which the 14-year PBA veteran did not immediately sign as he weighs his options.
Taulava’s lady agent, Sheryl Reyes, said Taulava’s presence in the tune-up game doesn’t mean he has committed to signing the contract extension with the Bolts.
“Asi was there in the tune-up game to simply support Sol Mercado, but we’re still studying the options and looking at the details of the contract offered to Asi,” Reyes said.
According to Reyes, Taulava’s other options outside Meralco include offers from three Asean Basketball League teams as well as from a club team in China’s pro league, Chinese Basketball Association.
But based on what Gregorio said, it appears that it will only be a matter of time before Taulava wears the orange-and-white uniform of the Bolts again.