The 2019 PBA season was a roller-coaster ride for NLEX and coach Yeng Guiao.
While things looked rosy when NLEX opened the season with the return of Kevin Alas from an ACL injury on his right knee, plus the offseason addition of slotman Poy Erram, the team eventually failed to live up to expectations.
The absence of Kiefer Ravena in the first two conferences was also felt by the Road Warriors, who failed to reach the post season in the Philippine Cup and Commissioner's Cup.
Ravena managed to return from an 18-month ban meted by FIBA for failing to pass the random drug test by the time the 2019 Governors' Cup chugged along.
The Road Warriors added a legitimate big man at the start of the season with the entry of vastly-improved slotman John Paul Erram in a three-team trade that involved Blackwater and TNT.
Blackwater agreed to ship Erram to NLEX after acquiring the Road Warriors' rookie picks Paul Desiderio and Abu Tratter shortly at the conclusion of the 2018 Gatorade PBA Rookie Draft. The trade eventually underwent revision as the Elite eventually got seldom-used guard Alfrancis Tamsi and TNT's 2022 second rounder in the trade.
Erram earned a Mythical Second team citation, a first in his PBA career since starting as a practice player for TNT in 2013.
The former Ateneo big man did his share on offense and defense. But tragedy struck NLEX when Kevin Alas went down with another knee injury five games into the 2019 season.
Alas reinjured his right knee when he tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during the Road Warriors' win over the Meralco Bolts at the Ynares Center in Antipolo, the same venue where he suffered the same injury during the 2018 Philippine Cup.
NLEX, then toting a 2-3 card, was never the same again from there, winning just two out of its last six games as the Road Warriors failed to reach the playoffs.
The 2019 Commissioner's Cup was practically the same story for NLEX, which encountered import woes.
Original choice Tony Mitchell failed to arrive on time, forcing Guiao to tap the services of Curtis Washington, who couldn't live up to expectations.
By the time Mitchell arrived, the athletic American had to first deal with his papers.
The Road Warriors opened the mid-season conference with six straight losses.
They managed to beat the Meralco Bolts for their first win for a 1-7 record, but by then, Guiao waved the white flag already as he decided to bring back Canadian-Nigerian Olu Ashaolu as part of their early build up for the Governors' Cup.
NLEX went on to finish dead last in the Commissioner's Cup with its 3-8 card.
But a silver lining for NLEX was the acquisition of spitfire guard Jericho Cruz in a three-team trade that involved TNT and NorthPort during the Commissioner's Cup.
When the Governors' Cup rolled along, NLEX seemed poised for a breakout performance.
Buoyed up by the return of Ravena, the familiarity of Ashaolu with the team's system and just NLEX's eager desire to redeem itself, the Road Warriors zoomed to a 4-1 start.
Guiao then, made the difficult decision to replace Ashaolu despite the import's solid performance, bringing in NBA veteran Manny Harris in his place.
The Road Warriors closed the elims with back-to-back defeats to the Batang Pier and Alaska Aces, but still managed to enter the playoffs as the top seed with their 8-3 record.
NLEX's poor ending in the elimination round though seemed to have spilled over to the opening round of the playoffs. The Road Warriors failed to capitalize on their twice-to-beat advantage, losing twice to the Batang Pier, including an epic 126-123 triple overtime loss to close their 2019 season campaign in a whimper.
The loss placed NLEX on the wrong side of history, becoming the latest top seed to lose to a no. 8 seed since B-Meg bowed to Powerade in the 2012 Philippine Cup.
What they need
In the just concluded 2019 PBA Rookie Draft, Guiao selected several top-notch guards in Matt Nieto (special Gilas draft) and Mike Ayonayon (first round), before adding former University of San Carlos big man William McAloney in the second round.
The last three rounds saw NLEX select Gelo Vito, Jayvee Marcelino and Jeramer Cabanag.
Adding Nieto, a three-time UAAP champion with the Ateneo Blue Eagles and Ayonayon, a known scorer in the MPBL, are sure welcome additions for Guiao and NLEX.
It would just be interesting to see how these two neophytes can fit in at NLEX, which already has a loaded backcourt that includes Ravena, Alas (once he's back and healthy), Jericho Cruz, Philip Paniamogan, along with veterans Cyrus Baguio and Larry Fonacier.
But then again, the entry of the 6-foot-5 McAloney is a welcome addition for NLEX considering that the Cebuano big man is coming off an impressive MPBL stint.
McAloney averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds for Cebu.
Knowing Guiao though, his uncanny coaching style can sure turn NLEX into a team that is capable of slaying giants.
And given the lessons learned from their quick 2019 Governors' Cup playoff exit, it wouldn't be a surprise if NLEX comes out wiser, stronger and better come the 2020 season.