The Jeff Chan trade was the last straw.
Granted that a few of them are still in the current Rain or Shine Elasto Painters lineup, the gang of basketball thugs that struck fear into the hearts of every PBA team during the earlier part of this decade no longer exists.
"I feel sad about it, that's for sure," Yeng Guiao told SPIN.ph about the breakup of his former team's core, following Chan's departure (joined the Phoenix Fuel Masters). "But I'm also sure the (RoS) owners and the coaches know what's best for the team and they have the best interest of the team at heart."
Contrary to popular belief, the dismantling of Coach Yeng's Elasto Painters didn't commence when he left the team for the NLEX Road Warriors last year. Remember when Jervy Cruz (a promising player) was shipped, with Ryan Araña (a fan favorite) following suit a month later?
Even before those deals, Rain or Shine had already been drafting well, and it felt like the team was going through a transition, moving away from their signature rugged style. The retooled squad even captured the 2016 Commissioner's Cup title, but that didn't stop the management and coach Caloy Garcia from applying a fresh coat of paint to the franchise.
Changing their image wasn't an easy feat considering they earned notoriety for being the local version of the NBA's 'Bad Boy' Pistons.
Think about it: no other player draws more parallels to Isiah Thomas than Paul Lee, who is now with the Star Hotshots. Both 'Zeke' and the 'Angas ng Tondo' hail from "peaceful" neighborhoods, ooze charisma, and had played through pain at one point. We're not even pointing out the similarities in how lethal the two point guards are on the court.
That said, Chan is easily Lee's Joe Dumars. Reserved and deadly on the draw, the 'Negros Sniper' embodies the shooter qualities of Isiah's backcourt mate. Interestingly enough, Chan and Dumars both received sportsmanship awards in the course of their respective basketball careers—Chan in UAAP Season 69, Dumars in 1998.
Probably the most obvious comparisons to Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn are Beau Belga and JR Quiñahan, who reunited with Guiao last May. Although not as blatantly dirty as its Detroit counterpart, 'Extra Rice, Inc.' was literally and figuratively the biggest and baddest frontcourt in that span. Players had to think twice before driving to the lane, for fear of being clobbered by the space-eating duo.
Belga, much like Laimbeer, relished the hate from opposing fans, while Quiñahan had his fair share of balls thrown and elbows swung. The latter's situation is also closer to Mahorn's in terms of shedding the extra pounds and being the first one to be separated from his partner. Safe to say, the paint will never be the same again for the Elasto Painters.
If there is one player who should end up as a RoS lifer, it would be Gabe Norwood. The versatile swingman is the mix of the Piston small forwards Adrian Dantley and Dennis Rodman, balancing playmaking and defense like the two NBA stalwarts. Although crazier things have happened; time is ticking for Norwood, Belga, and other mainstays Jireh Ibañes, Ronnie Matias, and Chris Tiu.
That unlikely crew would not have worked out if not for Yeng Guiao, who most would call a modern-day Chuck Daly. The bald-headed mentor established a sense of unity and toughness that resonated with the whole team. Whenever possible, Guiao employed all of his players, and he treated everyone with the same fire and intensity. The team may have gotten only two championships, but it remained a perennial contender under his five-year tutelage.
Garcia could turn the roster upside down all he wants, but it would take a while to cover up the mark left by Coach Yeng's Elasto Painters.