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Oct 16, 2015
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The bad news for Philippine basketball is that we didn't get an automatic slot in Rio 2016 (although there's still the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, so there's hope!). The good news though is the PBA is back!

The 41st season of Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league officially kicks off on Sunday, October 18 Wednesday, October 21, (with gorgeous muses, as always) and we’re all excited to see our favorite local ballers battle it out on the hardcourt once again.

We're sure you are, too.

To give you an idea of what to expect, we've come up with a mega preview of the upcoming 2015-16 Philippine Cup—the first and most prestigious conference of the season. And since we also like playing analyst, we decided to throw in our prediction for each team as well. (Just don't hunt us down if our Madame Auring powers fail, mkay? Nobody's perfect.)

Read on, fellow hoops fans!


BLACKWATER ELITE

Additions: Art Dela Cruz (SF, first round, ninth pick), Almond Vosotros (PG, second round, first pick), Jason Melano (SF, third round, first pick), Keith Agovida (SF, fourth round, first pick), Mike Cortez (PG), James Sena (C), Jason Ballesteros (C)

Gone: Larry Rodriguez (PF)

Team preview: The Elite traded for the rights to last year’s second overall pick, Kevin Alas, after the 2014 Rookie Draft. But instead of building around the talented young guard, they decided to ship him (together with their 2015 first round pick) to Talk N' Text in order to add a veteran presence in Larry Rodriguez. Unfortunately for the Elite, Rodriguez would deal with injuries that sidelined him for most of his stay with the team.

Image via Spin.ph

Looking at the team now, Blackwater certainly added a bit of height with the arrival of James Sena and Jason Ballesteros (both are at least 6'5"). They also drafted talented small forward Art Dela Cruz who should add more scoring from the wings. Expect him to be a key player on offense right away.

That being said, the team still lacks in both size and talent. The good news is they're starting to add what we deem are key pieces (big men and scorers) to the roster. They'll still be among the cellar-dwellers, but they won't lose as much compared to last year, when losing by 20 points is a common scene for them.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: They'll be happy with one or two wins. Sorry Mr. Sy, your team just isn't there yet. But hey, no other way but up, right?

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NLEX ROAD WARRIORS

Additions: Garvo Lanete (PG, first round, sixth pick), Glenn Khobuntin (PF, first round, tenth pick), Jansen Rios (SG, third round, third pick), Kevin Alas (PG), Simon Enciso (PG, second Round, fifth Pick), Sean Anthony (SF)

Gone: KG Canaleta (SF), Aldrech Ramos (C), Juneric Baloria (PG)

Team preview: The third-newest team in the league had the benefit of playing with an almost intact Air21 lineup (a squad that made the semis in the 2013-2014 Governor’s Cup) last season. However, they had an up-and-down campaign, barely making the wildcard phase of two of the three tournaments and getting eliminated early in the last. 

Image via Spin.ph

The team looks more talented now on paper, thanks in part to their acquisition of Kevin Alas, a player who's quickly turning out to be among the PBA's up-and-coming scorers. Sean Anthony, a versatile forward who can unleash condom-like defense and do scoring chores, is another welcome addition. He should help the team's Manong Brigade composed of the evergreen 42-year-old Asi Taulava and the 35-year-old Enrico Villanueva. The arrival of talented rookie forward Glenn Khobuntin gives the team another player who can bang inside.

Long story short, the Road Warriors now have more firepower and heft. Not bad, NLEX management.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: At least a quarterfinals stint, with a semis appearance not far-fetched, especially with the way Taulava has been playing (tell us the location of the Fountain of Youth, big guy!).


BARAKO BULL ENERGY

Additions: Kris Rosales (SG, second round, seventh pick), Michael Miranda (C, second round, ninth pick), Yutien Andrada (C, third round, fifth pick), Josh Urbiztondo (PG), Emman Monfort (PG), Jens Knuttel (PG), Mick Pennisi (C), Prince Caperal (PF), Mac Baracael (SF), Jervy Cruz (PF)

Gone: Nico Salva (SF), Jake Pascual (PF), Dylan Ababou (SF), Rico Maierhofer (PF/C)

Team preview: The Energy became a consistent playoff team last year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in each of the three conferences last season. They had a hot start in the season-ending Governor’s Cup, leading the league at one point with a 6-1 win-loss record. Sputtering at the end of the elimination round with four straight losses, they gave up a potential twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs before eventually being eliminated by Rain or Shine.

Image via Spin.ph

In true Barako Bull fashion, they were active on the trading front during the off-season, trading away Nico Salva for three of Ginebra’s point guards. However, the resurgent, fresh-from-Gilas JC Intal is certainly a big positive, and we expect him to be the team's top gun. Jervy Cruz is another nice addition as he adds both size and mid-range shooting while Mac Baracael gives them added sniping and angas.

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Barako Bull is now more potent on offense compared to last year. If they stop the wheelin' and dealin', stick to their pieces, and develop much-needed chemistry, they might just be branded as among the league's dark horses. 

FHM's Fearless Forecast: A quarterfinals appearance at the very least with Intal slamming his way to major minutes and bigger numbers.


GINEBRA GIN KINGS

Additions: Coach Tim Cone, Scottie Thompson (SG, first round, fifth pick), Aljon Mariano (SF, second round, fourth Pick), Lee Villamor (SF, third round, sixth pick), Nico Salva (SF), Joe Devance (SF)

Gone: Coach Frankie Lim, Josh Urbiztondo (PG), Emman Monfort (PG), Jens Knuttel (PG), Mac Baracael (SF), Dorian Peña (C)

Team preview: Despite a pretty soild team on paper, the Barangay couldn’t break out of the middle of the pack in three conferences last season. Their best campaign came in the Philippine Cup, where they reached the quarterfinals. However, they were eliminated in a one-game playoff against Talk N’ Text. They showed promise, but it seemed it wasn’t enough for the management as they axed Coach Frankie Lim right after the season.

Image via Spin.ph

Here's the thing: the team is already loaded last season, with marquee names like Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, and Mark Caguioa, among others, in the roster. What they lacked was a legit, solid, long-lasting system. They're actually one good coach away from being true contenders.

They have solved that problem now with the arrival of the winningest coach in league history, the one and only Tim Cone. By unloading some of their guards in favor of lengthy forwards (a key ingredient in Cone's Grand Slam recipe) like Joe Devance, the team is starting to look like a squad hell-bent on reclaiming the championship and ending their title drought.

Needless to say, this team is hella scary (did we mention they have the tallest pair of trees in the PBA?). The only thing we see that could be a problem is team chemistry, but that's certainly not something Coach Cone can't solve. The rest of the league has been warned.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: With the talent the squad has and Coach Tim at the helm, we expect at least a semis appearance. Anything less is a big disappointment.


GLOBALPORT BATANG PIER

Additions: Roi Sumang (PG, third round, first pick), Ryan Whetherell (SG, fourth round, fourth pick), Joseph Yeo (SG), Rico Maierhofer (PF/C), Jay Washington (SF), Dorian Pe?a (C), Jonathan Uyloan (PG)

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Gone: Jewel Ponferada (C), Dennis Miranda (PG), Prince Caperal (PF)

Team preview: GlobalPort sandwiched an early exit last season with a couple of playoff appearances and even had a twice-to-beat advantage in the Governor’s Cup. However, they still fell short as the Star Hotshots got hot at the right time. 

Image via Spin.ph

For the upcoming season, they drafted Roi Sumang (a surprise late pick) who will add more scoring oomph to a team that already has Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle. No doubt, this team can score. They also have a bit of size now with Rico Maierhofer and Pe?a in the mix. The addition of Jay Washington gives them a stretch four so, yeah, it sure looks like the roster has been upgraded.

The big question: Can they also play decent D? Their newest acquisitions aren't exactly known as Grade A defenders, so that's an important issue Coach Pido Jarencio should address if he wants this team to be more than just a middle-of-the-pack squad. 

FHM's Fearless Forecast: We'll go out on a limb here and say they'll book their first semis appearance, granted they play good defense consistently. Also, "Bro-meo" has become a more mature player, thanks to his national team stint. A Romeo minus the hero ball complex is bad news for any opponent.


MERALCO BOLTS

Additions: Chris Newsome (SG, first round, fourth pick), Baser Amer (PG, first round, seventh pick), Joseph Sedurifa (SG, third round, seventh pick), Jimmy Alapag (PG)

Gone: Danny Ildefonso (retired), Mike Cortez (PG), James Sena (C), Sean Anthony (SF)

Team preview: The Bolts looked good at the start of last season, stopping the Star Hotshots’ drive for a fifth-straight championship in the Philippine Cup playoffs. Sadly though, that would be the biggest highlight of their campaign.

Image via Spin.ph

With the team looking to rebuild its frontline, Danny Ildefonso officially retired from the game after 17 seasons. With one retirement comes an "un-retirement" though, as the Bolts acquired Talk N’ Text Team Manager Jimmy Alapag, who will make a comeback and reunite with his former coach Norman Black.

The return of Rabeh Al-Hussaini gives the Bolts the ceiling they sorely need, with the team’s frontline likely to revolve around him, Kelly Nabong, Justin Chua, and Bryan Faundo. We're not sure if that cast can contend with the likes of June Mar Fajardo, Aguilar, and Slaughter, though.

Still, the team has proven it can be good both on offense and defense in the past, with go-to guys like Gary David, Jared Dillinger, and Reynel Hugnatan. These veterans form a stable bunch of hard-nosed ballers that can guide the young ones on the court. Baser Amer and Chris Newsome should give the team more highlights, but the old reliables will still be the ones carrying the team.

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FHM's Fearless Forecast: Meralco has a nice mix of youth, experience, and talent, both on the floor and the sidelines (we expect Alapag to have assistant coach roles as well). A semis appearance is not out of the question; a quarterfinals stint is a sure deal.


MAHINDRA ENFORCERS

Image via Spin.ph

Additions: Bradwyn Guinto (C, second round, second pick), Leodaniel De Vera (SF, third round, second pick), Michael Vincent DiGregorio (SG, fourth round, second pick), Aldrech Ramos (C), KG Canaleta (SF), Juneric Baloria (PG), Paolo Hubalde (PG)

Gone: Kia Sorento Management, draft pick Troy Rosario (PF), Hans Thiele (PF), Jason Deutchman (SF), Leo Avenido (SF)

Team preview: The debut season of Manny Pacquiao’s team did not end up as disastrously as people expected. They won one game in last year's Philippine Cup where everyone expected them to lose all their games. Their towering imports played a huge part in helping the team win a total of nine games in the next two conferences.

They had a bit of luck by winning the second overall pick in this year's draft, who turned out to be Troy Rosario. They then sent him to Talk N’ Text in a three-team trade that got them several key players in Aldrech Ramos, KG Canaleta, and Rob Reyes. In just their second year in the league, the team will also be playing under a third name (from Kia Sorento, Kia Carnival, and now Mahindra Enforcers).

Image via Spin.ph  

This team, just like last year, will be as feisty as ever and will score in bunches. However, they'll have major problems in the paint as they really don't have a wide body that can at least bother the other teams' more talented (and bigger) bigs. That can be remedied in the second and third conferences (PJ Ramos, anyone?) but, in the Philippine Cup, they'll have to find ways to limit the inside scoring of their opponents.

In any case, the Mahindra Enforcers is a scrappy, speedy bunch and we expect them to put up a fight against the legit elites and, yes, even win one, two, maybe three games along the way.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: A maximum of three wins in the Philippine Cup.


STAR HOTSHOTS

Additions: Norbert Torres (C, first round, eighth pick), Jake Pascual (PF), Ronald Pascual (SF), Coach Jason Webb

Gone: Coach Tim Cone, Mick Pennisi (C), Joe Devance (SF)

Team preview: Coming off a Grand Slam-winning stretch, the Star Hotshots had an even bigger target on their backs to start the 2014-15 season. It seems that teams have finally found a way to beat them though, with Meralco, Talk N’ Text, and Alaska taking turns in preventing them from reaching the finals (or in Meralco’s case, the semifinals) last season.

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Image via Spin.ph

With the departure of Coach Cone, the Star Hotshots are certainly in adjustment mode under newbie coach Jason Webb. However, the team is pretty much intact, with Joe Devance the only significant player to be shipped out. Chemistry won't be much of an issue, and the defense that won them the Cs is still there.

The main problem though is age. James Yap, PJ Simon, and Marc Pingris—the team's Big Three—are all approaching their mid-30s. We expect their scoring to go down a bit, but that shouldn't be a biggie as this team's stacked with young talented guns. The now-injury-free Ian Sanggalang is back to unleash his effective post moves while Allein Maliksi, Mark Barroca, and Alex Mallari have proven they can lead the team in offense.

Don't sulk, Star Hotshots fan. All's not lost. This team is still among the league's elites.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: Certainly a semis stint while a return to the finals or even winning it all is achievable. They'll find it harder though without Tim Cone, but it's not as if they're lacking in talent, experience, and championship pedigree. 


TALK N' TEXT TROPANG TEXTERS

Additions: Moala Tautuaa (C, first round, first pick), Troy Rosario (PF, first round, second pick), Larry Rodriguez (PF), Dylan Ababou (SG), Dennis Miranda (PG)

Gone: Jimmy Alapag (PG, team manager),  Jay Washington (SF), Kevin Alas (PG), Rob Reyes (C)

Team preview: Despite giving their Gilas players a rest to start the previous season, their deep bench helped them stay at the top half of the league. They were swept by eventual champs San Miguel Beermen in the semifinals of last year's Philippine Cup, but managed to win the Commissioner’s Cup with the help of import Ivan Johnson. Like the Beermen, they were eliminated early in the Governor’s Cup after winning the previous conference.

Image via Spin.ph

With the two biggest names in the recent draft, Troy Rosario and Moala Tautuaa (both stand around 6'7"), Talk N' Text definitely upgraded their frontcourt in a huge way. The talent is still there, so is the coaching prowess, offense, and defense. The difference now is they have the personnel to make Fajardo, Slaughter, and the rest of the league's behemoths work harder on both ends of the floor.

Let's put it this way: This team looks like it's built for battling San Miguel and Ginebra.

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FHM's Fearless Forecast: A ton of slams from Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Tautuaa, and Rosario. TNT will have one of the two finals seats. Book it.


RAIN OR SHINE ELASTO PAINTERS

Additions: Maverick Ahanmisi (PG, first round, third pick), Josan Nimes (SF, first round, 12th pick), Don Trollano (SF, second round, third pick), Ronnie Matias (PF, free agent)

Gone: Ryan Ara?a (SG), Jonathan Uyloan (PG, free agent), TY Tang (retired)

Team preview: Rain or Shine finished no lower than third in three conferences last season. The team had one finals appearance (Commissioner’s Cup) where they faced Talk N’ Text in a series that needed all seven games to be decided. 

Image via Spin.ph

Ryan Ara?a, TY Tang, and Jonathan Uyloan have left the team. Other than that, Rain or Shine remains largely unchanged. They did draft mystery Fil-Am guard Maverick Ahanmisi and has welcomed the return of Ronnie "Ang Batas" Matias, two players who will be given ample chances to show their wares in Coach Yeng Guiao's equal-opportunity system.

The team's scoring will again rely on Jeff Chan and Paul Lee, with Gabe Norwood pitching in every now and then. An improved Raymond Almazan will hold the fort together with Beau Belga, giving them at least a fighting chance against the bigger teams. Their calling card remains to be their defense and physicality.

Under Coach Yeng, the Elasto Painters have won their first championship, and have achieved multiple finals appearances. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the league, and that probably won't change anytime soon.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: At least a semis stint for Coach Yeng's wards. If they can remedy their size problems, they have a good shot at the finals.


ALASKA ACES

Additions: Kevin Racal (SF, first round, 11th Pick), Marion Magat (C, second round, sixth pick)

Gone: N/A

Team preview: The Aces appeared in the finals of two of the three conferences last season, succumbing both times to the San Miguel Beermen. They only missed the finals in the Commissioner’s Cup, where they joined the Beermen in an early exit. With a steady system and personnel in place, the Aces did not make any major moves in the off-season.

Image via Spin.ph

The same roster and coaching staff—Alaska certainly doesn't want to complicate things when it comes to chemistry and adjustments. They'll be bringing the same suffocating defense and inside-out offense that made them among the league's top teams last season. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right?

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FHM's Fearless Forecast: Oh, we forgot about Alaska's trio of Gilas-improved players (Calvin Abueva, S0nny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros). Expect the Aces to land in the final four (and that's being conservative).


SAN MIGUEL BEERMEN

Additions: Ryan Ara?a (PG), Alex Cabagnot (PG, re-signed, free agent), Arwind Santos (PF, re-signed, free agent)

Gone: Ronald Pascual (SG)

Team preview: Since the arrival of June Mar Fajardo, everyone expected it was only a matter of time before the flagship franchise of the San Miguel conglomerate would dominate the league. It took them a while, but last season showed everyone why Fajardo is such a game-changer. The 2012 first overall pick was heralded as the Best Player of the Conference twice on his way to being named the Most Valuable Player of the season, his second in just three years.

Image via Spin.ph

The Beermen did not win a Grand Slam, but they did win two of the three conferences last season. The team did not have picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft, but that hardly matters as they already have a loaded team. They re-signed Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos to new contracts and traded away seldom-used Ronald Pascual in a three-team deal that got them crafty guard Ryan Ara?a, further boosting their backcourt.

After winning two championships last season and having arguably the most dominant big man in the league, a former MVP, a stable system, and a supporting cast loaded with talented players who can deliver both on offense and defense, there’s no doubt the future is bright for the Beermen.

FHM's Fearless Forecast: Of all the teams in the league, San Miguel has the biggest chance to go all the way. The team has it all: height, experience, depth, talent, and shooting. You could make a case that, if they play their cards right, a Grand Slam next season is within reach.


The first game of the PBA's 41st season has been moved to Wednesday, October 21, due to the worsening weather and pits Rain or Shine against Star. Game time is 5 p.m., right after the opening ceremony.

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