As promised, Jonathon Simmons leaves NLEX Road Warriors with perfect 4-0 start to PBA Governors' Cup

After helping NLEX Road Warriors to a 4-0 start in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup, NBA veteran Jonathon Simmons is now heading to China on a big-money move. PBA Media Bureau

At the post-game news conference on Saturday shortly after NLEX Road Warriors booked their fourth straight win in the PBA Governors' Cup -- a 98-94 decision over Phoenix Super LPG -- NLEX head coach Frankie Lim turned to his outgoing import Jonathon Simmons.

"Did you find your passport?" Lim deadpanned.

"I got it," Simmons said with a smile.

"Make sure it's real," Lim replied.

The exchange was a follow-up to Lim's remark last Wednesday after NLEX had rallied to stun TNT Tropang Giga, where he confirmed that Simmons would leave for China after their game against Phoenix.

"If he finds his passport," Lim had joked. "I burned it."

Indeed, it's hard for Lim and the Road Warriors to see Simmons leave. The team currently sits atop the Governors' Cup standings with a 4-0 record, and the NBA veteran was a big reason for this. In his four games, Simmons averaged 37.0 points on 49% shooting.

However, a CBA team dangled an offer he couldn't refuse.

"I had a great experience," Simmons said. "A great group of guys, good coaching staff. Unfortunately I have to leave. But it was all good, all A+. I wouldn't hesitate to come back and play for Coach Frankie.

"There's a lot of money on the table. I'm a family guy. It's more about providing for my family at this point. I'm 33, so I have a short window left to play basketball. So I'm just kind of thinking about that."

The Road Warriors were hoping that Simmons could have postponed his departure until after they face defending champions Barangay Ginebra on Wednesday, but it was too much to ask.

"I tried. I tried to push (to play against Ginebra)," Simmons said. "I'll get them one day."

Instead, the Road Warriors will have to lean on Wayne Selden Jr., Simmons' replacement who has yet to arrive in Manila. Lim is hoping Selden will prove to be a worthy alternative, adding: "(We have to) just try to be consistent, especially our locals. We have another import coming in anytime soon, so just try to work with him and again teach him the things we do in our games.

"It's just too bad that 'Sims' (Simmons) has to leave. We just have to go on and work more with our 4-0 run.

"We still have to see our new import. Maybe tomorrow (Sunday), we're gonna call practice just for him. And maybe teach him our plays, what we do. Hopefully he helps us in our next game against Ginebra on Wednesday."

The Fuel Masters nearly spoiled Simmons' going-away party, taking a 73-68 lead late in the third quarter before NLEX went on a 24-3 run to break the game open. Phoenix still wouldn't go away, as RJ Jazul's hot shooting got them to within four, but that was as close as they would get.

Fittingly, Simmons dribbled away the last few seconds of the game. Afterwards, fans at the Ynares Center jostled to get photos with him and asked him to sign their NBA memorabilia.

"It means a lot," Simmons said. "I try to embrace myself as much as I can with the fans."

Lim admitted he will miss Simmons' leadership. "This guy knows how to win games. So I think I'll miss that. He's a nice guy, and it's nice to work with him even in practice."

"Tonight I was not very happy with our offense," Lim said. "We scored below 100. I think we should get more points from players like Kevin (Alas), Don Trollano, even Sean Anthony. That sparks our defense. I think our zone did us well tonight.

"We made stops, had a good run. I want them to enjoy our basketball and I want them to be scoring especially the times when we have numbers and our sets."

For now, Lim hopes to have one last dinner with his prized import before he leaves.

"I have two bottles of red wine. He loves red wine," revealed Lim. "He's leaving Monday, so we still have tomorrow evening."

For keeping his promise of giving NLEX four wins, Simmons is in line to possibly get a bonus from team management.

Lim, though, couldn't resist a final joke, as he teased: "I got his bonus actually. They gave him his bonus, I said no."