It seems like yesterday when Barangay Ginebra San Miguel ended the last conference of 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.
Has Meralco Bolts found the right formula?
The Bolts came close to winning their first-ever title after losing to Ginebra in the Governors’ Cup finals. The runner-up finish was attributed to the progress made under first year coach Norman Black who had tapped players that fit right in his system.
The Philippine Cup will test whether Meralco’s semifinal stint in the Commissioner’s Cup and the aforementioned success in the Governors’ Cup were no fluke. Leadership could be an issue with Jimmy Alapag’s retirement, but Black has plenty of young blood in Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge and Baser Amer to compliment the presence of veteran Reynel Hugnatan and new acquisitions Joseph Yeo and rookies Ed Daquioag and Jonathan Grey.
Meralco has made tremendous progress after going 1-10 in last season’s Philippine Cup, that is why many are looking to see if the they can finally lift the championship trophy that has eluded them for so long.
Will the Alaska Aces end the jinx?
Alaska has become the PBA’s heartbreak kids after losing twice in the finals last season. The most saddening defeat came in last season’s Philippine Cup when the Aces blew a commanding 3-0 lead that gave San Miguel the title.
Alaska remains a strong contender for the championship, with the energizer bunny otherwise known as Calvin Abueva leading the charge. The Aces still have the core from their finals-making teams like Sonny Thoss, Jvee Casio, Vic Manuel, RJ Jazul, Ping Exciminiano, and Dondon Hontiveros while acquiring Carl Bryan Cruz from the draft.
Coach Alex Compton encountered numerous heartbreaks since he took over in 2014. He and the rest of the Aces are tired of enduring another fruitless campaign.
Is TNT KaTropa ready for a title run?
New TNT coach Nash Racela (though he has yet to make it official due to his current duties with FEU in the UAAP) is tasked to lead a talented squad powered by star guard Jayson Castro.
The KaTropa have been in rebuilding mode with Troy Rosario and Mo Tautuaa entering their second season, while also eager to rebound from their semifinal loss to the Bolts in the Governors’ Cup semifinals. Veterans Ranidel de Ocampo, Ryan Reyes, and Larry Fonacier and high-flying Matt Ganuelas-Rosser remain on the team, giving Racela enough talent to revive the winning ways of Manny Pangilinan’s top franchise.
Racela faces big pressure in his first PBA head coaching duty, but his players’ familiarity under his system, almost the same as the one used by former coach Chot Reyes, may benefit TNT’s bid in the long run.
Can the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters keep its winning tradition?
Rain or Shine fans must have shed buckets of tears after losing coach Yeng Guiao and stars Paul Lee and JR Quinahan in the offseason. The departures could signal the end of an era for the Elasto Painters, who won two championships including last season’s Commissioner’s Cup.
But the Elasto Painters seem to be determined to keep their winning ways, first hiring Guiao’s assistant Caloy Garcia for his second tour of duty as head coach (he was Rain or Shine coach from 2008-2011 before Guiao took charge). They lost Lee to the Hotshots but got James Yap in return, while Jay Washington was acquired in the Quinahan deal.
Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, and Jewel Ponferrada signed fresh contracts to remain with Rain or Shine, while former FEU star Mike Tolomia was taken from the draft. A competitive bunch, if you ask us.
Will there be a Ginebra dynasty?
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel ended the frustration of its long-suffering fans following its conquest of last month’s Governors’ Cup, its first championship in eight years. The victory enabled Tim Cone to give Ginebra the championship in only his third conference with the “Never Say Die” squad.
That triumph is being groomed as a catalyst for a potential dynasty, especially with Cone having Governors’ Cup Finals Most Valuable Player LA Tenorio, hardworking Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar, Sol Mercado, the popular duo of Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand and rookie Kevin Ferrer on the roster. The absence of injured center Greg Slaughter, still recovering from an ACL injury, may not hurt Ginebra’s title campaign thanks to its deep lineup.
With renewed optimism from almost the players to the fans, the Big Dome could witness another championship celebration. But should the Ginebra of old, meaning its ability to lose big games, surface anew, then its haters will once again voice out their Kangkong jokes.
Can the San Miguel Beermen make history?
The Beermen are eyeing a piece of history, looking to become just the third team in the PBA to win three consecutive Philippine Cup titles.
San Miguel, the odds-on favorite to capture the Philippine Cup, will be led by three-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot and pesky defender Chris Ross. The Beermen also boosted their backcourt with the arrival of RR Garcia from sister team Star.
Two-time Coach of the Year winner Leo Austria has had a strong batting average since taking over the Beermen in 2014. However, he will probably face the biggest challenge of his SMB stint, with rival teams expected to go all-out in foiling their quest for a Philippine Cup trifecta.
Philippine Cup prediction: San Miguel over Ginebra in 7 games