The previous PBA season proved highly eventful, with the Beermen falling one championship short of winning its second Grand Slam, which turned out to be Ginebra's gain. But the almost two-month break wasn't spared from the drama that truly infuriated fans.
Squabbles between the SMB bloc vs. MVP bloc dominated the sports pages and social media feeds. Kia's move to trade top pick and Gilas mainstay Christian Standhardinger to mighty San Miguel for a bunch of benchplayers sparked renewed talks about league parity. The tension, thank the basketball gods, sounds close to being resolved, with news of Commissioner Chito Narvasa finally stepping down from his post very soon.
Now we can all get back and be excited about the upcoming season, which opens on Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum. It's only right to expect that all teams—superstar-powered or not—are looking to improve. The only question that needs to be answered: how exactly are they going to get it done? Numerous concerns surround each squad, like the impact of touted rookies and traded veterans to their new teams, but there is always a major storyline that will govern each team's performance this season.
FHM sums up the biggest concerns for each PBA team as they gear up for PBA Season 43.
Will Kia's "unconventional" hoops shield them from having another cellar-dwelling, fruitless campaign?
The Picanto was ridiculed on social media when management failed to justify its decision to trade the top overall pick in the PBA Draft to San Miguel as part of its desire to play "unconventional basketball."
Christian Standhardinger could have been tailor-fit for that concept. But Kia threw away its best chance at improving from its dismal performance last season, sending the multi-faceted big man in exchange for three seldom-used players and a future draft.
And with ace playmaker LA Revilla dealt to Phoenix following his cryptic tweet that obviously took shot at the trade, Picanto coach Chris Gavina now has ex-San Miguel discards Ronald Tubid, Jay-R Reyes and Rashawn McCarthy, veteran Mark Yee, and unheralded players led by Jackson Corpuz, Philip Paniamogan, and Bong Galanza to set their new offensive concept in motion.
Can Kiefer Ravena make an immediate impact for NLEX?
The selection of No. 2 pick Ravena gives the Road Warriors a marquee name through which they can anchor their marketing schemes, shoring up fan support in the process.
The skilled Ravena has shown readiness to play big-time basketball, as seen with his recent Gilas stints in various international competitions the past two seasons. The PBA, however, is a different animal and seasoned rivals are perhaps eager to give him a rude welcome.
Having Yeng Guiao as coach will be a boon to Ravena's development—and they need to depend on each another to fulfill NLEX's bid to soar higher this season, following two dismal conferences and a breakthrough quarterfinal appearance in Guiao’s first year at the helm.
Will Alaska redeem itself from last season’s disaster?
The Aces took a huge nosedive last season when they failed to make the playoffs of the two import-laden conferences. A 14-game losing skid in-between the Commissioner’s Cup and Governors’ Cup turned out to be a more disappointing run than their blown twice-to-beat advantage in the Philippine Cup quarterfinals.
Coach Alex Compton was still retained despite the disastrous campaign, while Calvin Abueva, Vic Manuel, Jvee Casio and Carl Bryan Cruz got a big reinforcement when the Aces picked former La Salle star Jeron Teng as the fifth overall selection in the draft.
Alaska has been a legitimate contender for the crown since Compton took charge in 2014 and is capable of regaining the mean streak that seemed to have been tamed last season.
Can Meralco finally contend without an import?
The Bolts came close to winning their first-ever PBA crown last October when they lost a tough seven-game battle with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals, with Allen Durham providing the needed presence and the usual 20-20 numbers.
Meralco has been successful the last two seasons in the import-flavored conferences with Durham, Alex Stepheson, and Arinze Onuaku. However, the Philippine Cup has always been a waterloo for the team during the said stretch, winning just four of 22 games.
Jared Dillinger, Chris Newsome, Baser Amer and Cliff Hodge, who did fine jobs complementing Durham in the Finals, will have their hands full as they try to send the Bolts to the playoffs without a reinforcement.
Will Rain or Shine regain its old, "perennial contender" form?
The departure of Yeng Guiao before the start of last season led to the demise of the Rain or Shine team that was both loved and hated. His move also affected the results when the Elasto Painters failed to advance past the quarterfinals of all three conferences.
Coach Caloy Garcia has been given a chance to run his own style with a roster composed of Gabe Norwood, Raymond Almazan, Jericho Cruz, James Yap, and Chris Tiu, but struggled to get the Elasto Painters over the hump.
This season, Garcia still has his core players—along with rookie Rey Nambatac—as they seek to reach the semis for the first time in the post-Yeng Guiao era, although injuries could set them back for the first few weeks of the campaign.
Can the Star, err Magnolia Hotshots, finally get over the hump?
The Star Hotshots were one of three teams made it to the semifinals of all three conferences last season, but the results left them begging for more.
Now known as the Magnolia Hotshots—a name change obviously coined to rival the emerging popularity of the Chooks-To-Go-backed Gilas Pilipinas—another semifinal appearance won’t be enough to satisfy coach Chito Victolero and his resilient squad, led by Paul Lee, Marc Pingris, Mark Barroca, and Jio Jalalon.
Magnolia will have to run past the big teams—sister teams San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, and TNT KaTropa—in order to reach the summit.
Will Nash Racela lead TNT back to the Promised Land?
Racela got mostly positive reviews for his performance as a rookie coach last season. His penchant for giving equal opportunities to young players and the core of past KaTropa championship teams allowed them to compete, with a runner-up finish to San Miguel in the Commissioner’s Cup the closest the team got to copping a crown.
The brother of PBA legend Olsen Racela will stick to the things that made him successful last season as TNT tries to end a three-year title drought with Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy, and Kelly Williams leading the way.
To finally reach the winner’s circle, Racela will have to be at his very best—not only with his constant psy-war tactics versus opposing coaches and players, but also when calling sharper sets—when TNT fights with San Miguel, Ginebra and Magnolia for supremacy.
Is the Philippine Cup the start of a big season for Gregzilla?
Greg Slaughter’s return from an ACL injury had a big effect in Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s successful retention of last season’s PBA Governors’ Cup crown, even winning the biggest individual award of his career—the Best Player of the Conference.
The seven-foot center is expected to play Ginebra’s Philippine Cup campaign begins on Christmas Day against Magnolia with the intention of lording over the shaded lane in the all-local tournament.
As Ginebra looks to challenge San Miguel’s reign as Philippine Cup titleholder, Slaughter could also make a serious run at ending the run of longtime rival June Mar Fajardo as the MVP of the last four seasons.
Is Blackwater ready to join the elite ranks?
The Elite made heads turn in last season’s Governors’ Cup when it fell short of securing a first-ever semifinal appearance, losing to Meralco in a hard-fought quarterfinal match, a development that could plant seed for bigger things in the upcoming season.
Blackwater Coach Leo Isaac already has the materials to make that breakthrough appearance a reality with a young core led by Mac Belo and rookie Raymar Jose, Mark Cruz, Roi Sumang hoping to play prominent roles, and Allein Maliksi and Mike DiGregorio expected to carry the bulk of the team’s offense.
There’s a high-level of optimism within the Blackwater camp. Count on them to avoid at all costs a repeat of last season’s inconsistent runs in all three conferences.
Can Louie Alas help Phoenix rise from the ashes?
The Fuel Masters made one of the significant changes in the offseason by hiring a new coach in Louie Alas, the longtime Alaska assistant who has not handled a PBA team since his two-year tenure with Mobiline in 2000 and 2001.
Alas immediately brought his trademark pressure defense to the side that has plenty of offensive weapons like Matthew Wright, rookie Jason Perkins, Revilla, and Jeff Chan. Top Phoenix officials believe the ex-Letran mentor is the right person to improve the Fuel Masters’ two quarterfinal exits and one dismal elimination round campaign last season.
Phoenix is perhaps one of the most talented teams outside of the San Miguel and MVP-owned teams, but is lacking the winning mentality to take the next step. Alas is hopeful he can lead the Fuel Masters hurdle that obstacle.
How can GlobalPort fill Romeo’s absence?
The Batang Pier will start the season without its resident star Terrence Romeo, who could be out until February because of a knee contusion. Romeo’s absence will make it difficult for them to score their first semifinal appearance since the 2016 Philippine Cup.
Pido Jarencio, back for a third term as Batang Pier coach, is left with his other star guard Stanley Pringle and energetic forward Sean Anthony to carry the offensive load. GlobalPort also signed returnees Kelly Nabong and Yousef Taha, while acquiring rookies Lervin Flores, Julian Sargent, and Joseph Gabayni.
It may take a while before the Batang Pier can find a way to fill Romeo’s shoes.
Can San Miguel make another serious run at the Grand Slam?
The Berrmen fell short in its quest to complete the PBA’s ultimate achievement when import problems led to the Beermen’s quarterfinal exit in the Governors’ Cup. They were left to savor their two championships and the many what-ifs.
San Miguel remains a force to be reckon with behind the star power of June Mar Fajardo, Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, and Arwind Santos while they await the debut of Standhardinger, who's currently fulfilling his obligation to Hong Kong Eastern in the ASEAN Basketball League.
Coach Leo Austria and the rest of the team may never admit it publicly, but getting the Grand Slam is definitely whets their appetite as they seek a fitting legacy to their impressive run of championships before the window closes on his aging but still formidable core.