MANAGEMENT of expansion franchise NLEX set a modest goal of making the playoffs and at least finishing fifth in the 12-team field of the coming 40th PBA season.
But evergreen center Asi Taulava raised the ante and said he believes the Road Warriors are way better than that.
Coming up with bold words days before the new season comes off the wraps, the 6-foot-10 Taulava bragged the rookie team can reach the Finals of any of the league’s three conferences.
“I have big expectations for this (NLEX) team,” said Taulava during Monday night’s formal team presentation at the C3 Event’s Place in Greenhills, San Juan.
Taulava made the statement in view of NLEX’s decision to bring back the nucleus of the Air21 team that finished a franchise-best fourth place in last season’s Commissioner’s Cup that saw the Express stretched eventual champion San Mig Coffee Mixers to a deciding Game Five in their semifinals series.
“What Air21 achieved last conference, I think I can get this team to the Finals. I got three conferences to do it, and not just get them to the Finals, but with the resources that boss MVP (Manny V. Panglinan) has for NLEX, I think I can deliver a championship for NLEX within the year,” vowed the 41-year-old Fil-Tongan.
The soft-spoken veteran big man said setting the modest goal of finishing fifth was perhaps management’s way of easing the pressure on the team.
But Taulava is unperturbed.
“I think our bosses played down the pressure for us by saying (we’re just good at) fifth place. But with how well we’ve (Express franchise) done last season, I don’t think I can accept fifth place,” he said.
“What’s the use of putting in so many long hours in the offseason if you just go out there and get fifth place?”
Taulava pointed out the return of Macmac Cardona, Jonas Villanueva, Wynne Arboleda, and a healthy Enrico Villanueva assure the Road Warriors of a solid veteran core, capable of challenging any other teams including reigning Grand Slam champion San Mig Super Coffee, San Miguel Beer, and even sister team Talk ‘N Text.
An added motivation, according to Taulava, is the challenge to become the crown jewel among teams under the umbrella of the MVP group, that also includes Meralco.
“I know Meralco and Talk ‘N Text are our sister companies. but that’s the last thing on my mind right now. Everytthing is about winning and losing now,” explained last season’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“If I have to beat them (Talk ‘N Text and Meralco) to get to the next round, we’re gonna play no-mercy basketball,” he added.
“If there’s one thing we have out there against those two teams is we have the size, especially with KG (Canaleta) coming in. We still have Aldrech (Ramos) and Rico (Villanueva) and all the other bigs here. I think we have the size over the other two teams in the MVP group,”
NLEX originally applied as one of three expansion teams last summer along with Kia Motors and Blackwater.
But in its desire to be competitive right in its first season in the pro league, the Road Warriors management deemed it best to purchase the Air21 franchise instead.