ASI Taulava has long expressed his desire to play for Barangay Ginebra before he retires - and his name has cropped up in a number of negotiations involving the Gin Kings that eventually bogged down.
Taulava has made the wish as early as his 40th birthday on March 2, when the veteran said he hopes to put a fitting end to his PBA career by playing for his favorite team. (For full story, see Birthday boy Taulava's fondest wish is to finish his career with 'favorite team' Ginebra)
But after the trade that sent him to Air21 for Mike Cortez on Saturday, is there a chance the 6-9 man-mountain can still end up in a Ginebra uniform?
Let's ask Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
“Yes, definitely magagamit ko yan. He is exactly what we need. Definitely, I will use him,” said Pumaren on the day the PBA Commissioner's Office approved the trade that sent seldom-used Mark Borboran and the rights to Taulava to Air21 for veteran guard Mike Cortez and James Sena.
Pumaren's primary concern at this point is to rescue Air21's campaign in the PBA Governors Cup after a 1-5 (win-loss) start and a big man like Taulava is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that Pumaren said has a gaping hole in the middle.
“Remember, it was so glaring for us in the last few games, we were really outclassed in the middle. The advantange with Asi is he can give us size, he can intimidate other people,” added the multi-titled UAAP coach.
But the question remains: Does Ginebra want him?
Ginebra has had a number of chances to get the rights to the slotman, the last in a complex four-team trade that was supposed to involve Petron's Joseph Yeo, Air21's 2014 first-round draft pick, Nerbert Omolon, James Sena and Cortez, Ginebra's Kerby Raymundo, and Meralco's Mac Cardona.
That deal was supposed to end with Air21 shipping Raymundo to Meralco for the rights to Taulava, who in turn will be dealt to Ginebra. (For full story, see Air21, Petron, Ginebra agree in principle on tweaked trade for Yeo, Raymundo)
For some reason, the San Miguel group pulled the plug on that trade. (For full story, see New demands, leaks to the media holding up trade talks, say sources)
But after Air21 and Meralco went on and completed a trade minus the San Miguel group, Ginebra has ended up holding an empty bag, especially with the Express' governor Lito Alvarez expressing the team's desire to hold on to Taulava until the early part of next season.
If that happens, it surely wouldn't help the cause of Ginebra, which needs help in the middle now even if it pushes through with its plan to reactivate former league MVP Eric Menk.
Besides, with Taulava's advancing age, the player's value is expected to decline as the years pass.
Still, insiders feel Ginebra still has the means to get Taulava if it wants him, with players like Raymundo and former La Salle star Rico Maierhofer surely to catch Air21 and Pumaren's attention in trade talks.
In the meantime, Pumaren said he is happy to have a big man like Taulava around, regardless if Air21 is merely a pit stop or the final destination for one of the most dominant centers of his time.
“Even at his age, Asi can give us scoring underneath. He is so good for his size,” he said. “Remember, mahirap to look for a big guy like Asi who is available, especially after his performance in the ABL. Quality big guys are hard to find.
“Basta ako, I will use him. He is the missing piece we need right now. Whether this is just his first stop or second stop, ang importante he will fill a void in our team now.”