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PBA Philippine Cup Preview Part 1: The Rise Of The Underdogs?

Coach Yeng's new Warriors, Mac Belo's star power, the return of Star Hotshots. FHM forecasts the future of the league's hard-luck squads
by Nate Toledo | Nov 19, 2016
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It seems like yesterday when Barangay Ginebra San Miguel ended the PBA’s 41st season with its first championship since 2008. Weeks of offseason moves and the acquisition of rookies from the draft have set the stage for what could be another exciting season for Asia’s first professional league.

The following are questions surrounding each of the 12 participating teams, questions that could either benefit or hamper their respective campaigns in the season that starts on Sunday with the league’s premier tournament—the Philippine Cup.

Is 'Big Mac' the real deal?

Blackwater Elite emerged as one of the biggest winners of the draft when it selected Mac Belo from the pool composed of Gilas 5.0 players. The former Far Eastern University star had a stellar amateur career, coming out of nowhere to help lead the Tamaraws to the championship last season.

Expectations are high on Belo, whose offensive versatility has been compared to Ranidel de Ocampo. Whether he can match or exceed what De Ocampo has done throughout his career will depend on how Belo handles the pressure of being the best player from this year’s rookie class.

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The Elite are eager to produce a winning campaign this season. They also got Ael Banal as the first pick in the regular draft to team up with Belo and sophomore Art dela Cruz, but lost guard Carlo Lastimosa in a trade with NLEX. However, if Fil-Canadian James Forrester, who was acquired in the Lastimosa deal, can prove his impressive preseason performance is no fluke, then coach Leo Isaac’s boys will end up okay.

Are the Star Hotshots ready for a revival?

Two years removed from winning the Grand Slam, the Hotshots were a miserable team last season under Jason Webb, who had the unfortunate task of filling the big shoes ex-Hotshots grandslam-winning coach Tim Cone.

The Hotshots made big moves in the offseason in hopes of regaining their winning form. It hired Chito Victolero as its new coach, relegating Webb to the role of consultant, acquired Aldrech Ramos from Mahindra, drafted former Arellano University star Jio Jalalon in the draft, while trading away longtime gunner James Yap to Rain or Shine Elasto Painters for a younger, more explosive Paul Lee.

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Lee is being groomed as the team's top dog, but whether he can stay healthy after a string of knee injuries last season remains to be seen. Otherwise, the “Lethal Weapon” will be a key factor in the Hotshots’ goal to reclaim lost glory.

Will offseason moves kill Mahindra Floodbuster's momentum?

Mahindra stunned everyone during last season’s Governors’ Cup by clinching its first playoff berth under the leadership of Chris Gavina, the lead assistant of designated head coach Manny Pacquiao.

However, the Floodbuster made head-scratching moves in the offseason, first allowing KG Canaleta to go to Globalport, while dealing Aldrech Ramos, Bradwyn Guinto, and Keith Agovida to Star, NLEX and San Miguel Beer respectively.

They were able to draft Russell Escoto from the Gilas pool and acquired Nico Salva, Alex Mallari, and Ryan Arana from Ginebra, Star, and San Miguel respectively. While it still has LA Revilla to man the point, and Pacquiao providing the attraction during his rare appearances, Mahindra will have to pull off a repeat of its improbable Governors’ Cup run (this time minus reinforcement James White) to prove the offseason moves were done with winning in mind.

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Will reunion spark the rise of Phoenix Fuel Masters?

The new season will witness the reunion between Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia and rookie pick Matthew Wright, the Fil-Canadian shooter who helped the Vanguardia-led Westports Malaysia Dragons win the ASEAN Basketball League title. Wright is considered as the best shooter in the draft, and having Vanguardia in his rookie campaign may benefit him in the long run.

The former JRU Heavy Bombers coach is aiming to lead the Fuel Masters to a much-improved campaign this year after making the playoffs of the Governors’ Cup last season, its first year in the league. Aside from Wright, the team got former National University star Gelo Alolino, the best point guard from the non-Gilas players in the draft, while getting veteran Doug Kramer to mix up with holdovers Cyrus Baguio, Willy Wilson, and John Wilson.

Making past the quarterfinal round will be a big step in Phoenix’s quest to become a top team in the pros, but they must hurdle the tough task of outlasting some of the league’s perennial heavyweights, particularly teams from the San Miguel and MVP groups, if they really want to be considered a contender.

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Can Yeng Guiao finally end the NLEX Road Warriors' misery?

One of the shocking moves of the offseason came when Guiao decided to leave Rain or Shine after five seasons to become the head coach of NLEX. He has been known as a miracle worker, thanks to his fiery and unconventional ways, leading several unheralded teams to the Finals.

Guiao has plenty of talent at NLEX, led by ageless wonder Asi Taulava, third-year guard Kevin Alas, Sean Anthony, Mac Baracael, Garvo Lanete, Glenn Khobuntin, and new acquisitions Bradwyn Guinto and Carlo Lastimosa. The Road Warriors have been a regular playoff contender since entering the league in 2014, but have yet to get past the quarterfinal round in each conference.

The temperamental yet astute mentor, with his signature fiery antics on the sidelines, may be the right man for the job as NLEX tries to join the PBA’s elite. But it may take a while for the Road Warriors to become a winner.

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Will the Slash Brothers finally win the big one?

Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle fittingly got their nickname for their abilities to drive the lane like a pair of sports cars, although they've yet to give the Globalport Batang Pier its first-ever championship since its professional debut in 2012.

In order to give the Slash Brothers more support, the Batang Pier got from Rain or Shine JR Quinahan, who played a more productive role last season. They drafted former Ateneo sniper Von Pessumal while getting Mick Pennisi from Phoenix and KG Canaleta from Mahindra.

Romeo and Pringle are hungry to give the neon-colored squad the breakthrough crown. However, the Slash Brothers are probably on borrowed time at Globalport, if trade rumors continue to persist amid management’s denial.


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