Less than 24 hours before their opening game in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup against Blackwater Bossing, NLEX Road Warriors were unsure if prized import Jonathon Simmons would play.
Simmons had reportedly received a lucrative offer to return to China, putting his future with the Road Warriors in doubt.
In the end, the NBA veteran suited up, leading NLEX to a 124-102 romp with 32 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
"I got a text message (Wednesday) morning that he can play," Road Warriors coach Frankie Lim said. "I was pretty confident he could play, and it was a big push for us.
"Simmons is not a good player but a great player. He knows how to play. He knows when to take a shot, when to pass. We're lucky to have him."
Lim, though, acknowledged that Simmons may not finish his tour of duty in Manila, revealing: "One thing I like about Simmons is he's honest and direct with me. And I really appreciate that.
"When he told me he has to go to China to play, I told him, 'Finish first your contract here. Maybe you can give us four wins before you leave.' I can't stop him. There's big money involved. But there's still a chance he might stay longer. That's what I was told a while ago."
The team is preparing for the worst, according to Lim.
"We're looking at somebody else to replace him," Lim added. "But when he will be here is all up to (NLEX team manager) Larry (Fonacier)."
After a slow start, Simmons showed his class in the second half, pumping in 20 points, including ten in the fourth where the Road Warriors outscored the Bossing 40-21 to pull away.
It left Lim wishing his import could stay till the end, as he mused: "It's tough especially if you really like your import. But life goes on. You have to know how to navigate these situations. And we cannot stop him from leaving. Just get another one. That's the only solution."
Kevin Alas, who dropped a career-high 31 points, thinks that what Simmons showed against Blackwater is just the tip of the iceberg.
"You saw him play. He's an NBA-caliber player," said Alas. "I guess we can expect more from him because it was his first game and he's still getting used to the style of play here, the physicality, the officiating. I'm excited for our upcoming games because I know he can do better."
Simmons was just glad to be able to play, even as he wouldn't commit to staying for the long haul.
"I don't know, man. I leave that stuff up to management," he said when asked about the uncertainty over his pre-game status. "I just come to play basketball. I'm glad it worked out so I could play and lead this team to a win."
When asked if he would play in the Road Warriors' next few games, he responded, "Yes, I'll be here." But when pressed about playing until the end of the conference, his said, "We'll see, we'll see. I'm not sure. We'll see what happens."
Simmons, easily the most decorated among this batch of imports, spoke highly of his team and the league.
"I'm just now knowing these guys," he praised.
"Kevin can really play, as I see here tonight. He's gonna be a big help for us going forward."
On his first impression about the PBA's style of play: "It's competitive, very competitive. Guys are physical, guys want to win. It's a lot better than I expected."
He also deflected any praise for NLEX's dominant showing, stating: "It was a team win. Coach made it easier for me to get to know the guys. He had a good game plan."