AFTER protracted negotiations for a contract renewal that got messy toward the end, Paul Lee is out to prove his heart belongs to Rain or Shine.
Speaking after Rain or Shine's sweep of Meralco in their PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinal series, the six-foot star guard said his run of impressive performances was his way of showing his loyalty to coach Yeng Guiao and a Rain or Shine team that fought to keep him during the offseason.
“Yun na rin nga, nakita ko ang daming na sacrifice ni coach Yeng para maibalik ako dito sa team," Lee told Spin.ph after scoring 23 points in the Elasto Painters' series-clinching 107-98 win over the Bolts on Tuesday night.
"So sa nilalaro ko ngayon, ipinapakita ko sa kanya at sa management na buo talaga yung loob ko na andito ako, at hindi ako umalis,” Lee said. “Madaming nagku-kwestyon dati ng loyalty ko di ba? So ito yung way na pinapakita ko sa kanila na loyal ako kahit ano pa ang nangyari dati.”
So impressive is Lee's performance that he has put himself in the frame for a first Best Player of the Conference award - a rarity for a Rain or Shine ballclub that spreads the minutes and prides itself in being a team without so-called 'superstars.'
Lee has also become so conscious of his performance that it has become a habit to check out his stats, just to make sure his contributions do not dip and he remains a factor in a game one way or another.
“Lagi ko tinitignan yung stats. Kapag napansin ko na bumaba ako sa points, chine-check ko kung tumaas ba assist ko o rebound at iba pa from previous games,” he said.
“Ngayon nga naiinis ako kasi may namintis na naman ako sa free throw, malamang bababa na naman stat ko dun. Dati 97 percent na 'yun eh. Bumaba na sa 93%, baka ngayon 90 na lang 'yun,” he added. shaking his head.
“Halos lahat naman sa team nag co-contribute, basta ako mine-maintain ko lang na laging andyan 'yung game ko. Kahit average lang magawa ko sa scoring, sa ibang department atleast makatulong ako."
Guiao said Lee's performance validates his belief that the Tondo-raised star is a vital piece worth fighing for.
“Alam ng mga bossing 'yan. Marunong naman sa basketball ang mga yan. Nakikita nila yung pyesa ng team, alam nila kung sino yung kailangan, kaya nga minaximum 'yan,” bared Guiao of his conversation with team owners Raymund Yu and Terry Que at the height of the contract renewal drama of Lee.
“We do not consider anybody a superstar in this team, alam niya (Lee) 'yun. Pero kailangan mo ring i-appreciate kung ano yung value niya sa team. Sa ngayon he is the best point guard and he is the most consistent.”
Guiao said Lee is a lot more focused this season, perhaps because he is done with his contract drama.
“Gumanda 'yung laro at chemistry ng team dahil nga nag-improve actually yung game ni Paul. Maybe because he is in better shape, he’s done with his contract extension, wala ng mental baggaes,” he said.
The outspoken coach said it is quite impressive to see Lee average 17 points, six rebounds and three assists while playing in a team that has one of the deepest rotations in the league - proof enough that he deserves the Best Player of the Conference award.
“Syempre, he deserves the award. Kung ako ang tatanungin mo, especially with our system, Paul Lee mag-average lang yan ng 20, 23 minutes a game, pero makikita mo na yung minutes na 'yun, quality pa rin,” he said.
“Pero nagta-thrive siya sa system na 'yun eh. Saka siya talaga ang pinaka-consistent player sa amin from the eliminations to the quarters to the smis, and we expect him na sa finals ganyan pa rin lalaruin niya,” he said.
“Siya talaga ang tumatayong leader ng team.”