Air21 Express was never a contender in the PBA, but next season Coach Franz Pumaren want to prove doubters that they certainly can contend.
Coach Pumaren faces a tough task of trying to make his new-look squad click in a short period of time which might cause his ouster of his job if he can't prove it.
The San Miguel Beer has the same situation but Air21 has a tougher task ahead considering how talented the line-up of the Beermen compared to them.
Air21 is languishing in the cellar of the standings for two straight conferences.
The Commissioner’s Cup tips off in two weeks, and the Express will parade several new trade acquisitions and an import that has had little practice time with the squad.
The Express surprisingly dealt its top scorer and consistent performer Nino "KG" Canaleta to Talk ’N Text in exchange for Sean Anthony, rookie guard Eliud Poligrates and a first-round pick for 2016 in a surprise move last January.
The 6-foot-6 Canaleta led the Express with averages of 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Philippine Cup.
The team added another piece in the puzzle by participating in a complex four-team, seven-player trade early this week.
The Express ships Bonbon Custodio to Globalport, while landing veteran point guard Jonas Villanueva.
The Express will have a pure point guard in Villanueva and a good back-up in promising rookie Poligrates.
Pumaren feels the additional manpower gives Air21 bench depth, though a strong showing for the import-laced conference would still be a challenge given the short tournament format of just nine games in the elimination round.
“Mahirap ngayon dahil nasa adjustment period uli kami,” Pumaren told Spin.ph over the weekend. “Siyempre, it’s not just jelling with the three new additions sa team, pero jelling pa with our import, who’ll only have his first practice (on Friday)."
Air21 tapped an unknown import in Herve Lamizana from Ivory Coast as its import for the Commissioner’s Cup.
The 215-pound Lamizana planed in late last Wednesday after coming off a stint with the Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association recently.
Lamizana was averaging 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 assists for the Blue Whales.
Pumaren said Lamizana could play the power forward position, where he could easily form a strong “twin tower” defensive wall alongside Asi Taulava.
“Herve is a very good help-side defender. He’s really a strong defensive player and I think he’s already used to a lot of banging,” explained Pumaren, whose immediate goal for the second conference is to bring the Express past the quarterfinals.
The Abidjan-born Lamizana, played for the Ivorian national team in the 2010 Fiba World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as the 2011 and 2013 Fiba Africa men’s championships, where they placed fourth in both editions.
Noted for his defense, Lamizana averaged 10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for Ivory Coast during last year’s Fiba Africa championships.
Expect the Express to use Villanueva as their starting point guard and start either Joseph Yeo and Mac Cardona, former La Salle teammates, at the off guard spot. The two might be fielded together with Cardona sliding to small forward.
At the frontcourt, the Express will parade Taulava and Lamizana in a possible duel with PBA's twin towers such as San Miguel's Arwind Santos and Junemar Fajardo and Ginebra's Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter.
It's still uncertain if Pumaren will prove his doubters but will just wait for the next conference's Commissioner Cup to know the answers.