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Who will coach NLEX?

The sale of Air21 to NLEX (North Luzon Expressway) has yet to be finalized and its possible acceptance as new member of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is still uncertain but rumors already abound on who will coach NLEX should the inevitable happen.

Unlike Kia Motors, one of two new PBA members, which has selected boxing champion Manny Pacquiao as head coach, several names have been floated around as possible NLEX coach.

Among the favorites are current NLEX Coach Boyet Fernandez, veteran mentor Jong Uichico and Air21 tactician Franz Pumaren.

Fernandez is likely the frontrunner having guided NLEX to several D-League championships. Although NLEX in the PBA will have new players, he already has a system that has produced six D-League championships.

Uichico, on the other hand, brings a wealth of experience to the team. He has won eight PBA championships and is currently assistant coach at Talk ‘N Text whose owner, businessman Manny Pangilinan, is also the owner of NLEX.

Pumaren is a long shot to coach NLEX under a new dispensation. Though he led Air21 to two playoff appearances this season, including a semifinal stint in the Commissioner’s Cup, that record may not stand a chance when the time comes to select the team’s coach.

Meanwhile, latest reports say the two sides are in the crucial stage of the negotiation which is determining exactly how much the Air21 franchise is worth. Air21’s PBA representative Lito Alvarez had earlier said management plans to sell it for no less than P300 million.

On the other hand, will Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) pay P300 million for a franchise when it decided that paying P100 million as PBA membership fee was too stiff?

Whatever is going on the negotiations, the coaching community is buzzing with various scenarios on who will handle the team next season.

An NLEX team official, who asked not to be named, said the decision on who will coach NLEX will be decided once the sale gets the approval.

“For now, we’ll just wait for the sale to be finalized,” said the official.

If and when the two sides agree, the board still has to approve the sale and NLEX needs to get the required two-thirds vote, or seven out of 10 PBA teams, for the sale to be finalized. NLEX was previously approved as an expansion team together with Kia and Blackwater Sports. (Waylon Galvez)