With the new year still less than two weeks old and the 44th PBA Season set to commence, let us take a look at each team’s most burning question heading into the new year.
1. Alaska Aces
Can they get over the championship hunt?
Year in and year out, the Alaska Aces are consistently one of the strongest contenders in the PBA. With 14 championships for the franchise, the players and the coaching staff for the Aces are held by a standard unlike most other teams. With a high character coaching staff led by Alex Compton that gets players to work hard and overachieve, the Alaska Aces of recent years have been pretty consistent with the franchise’s standards save for one thing — winning championships. Despite five finals appearances (and a consistent playoff fixture) since taking over as head coach, the Alex Compton era has produced zero championships for the Alaska franchise.
Compton now holds the record for most successive Finals defeats for a head coach. While making the Finals numerous times is definitely a notable achievement in itself, having the distinction of not being able to deliver all the way is something that Compton and the rest of the Alaska players certainly don’t want to have.
With an intact roster filled with a mix of veteran and developing talents, the Aces have all the reason to believe that they can finally snatch that elusive championship trophy this year.
2. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel
Can they finally get Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter healthy together for a full season?
When Ginebra drafted Greg Slaughter with the first overall pick in 2013, fans started having fever dreams of how a partnership with Japeth Aguilar will give every other team nightmares as Ginebra collects championships left and right. Unfortunately, numerous injuries have prevented PBA fans from seeing the full potential of a Slaughter-Aguilar tandem for a whole season. And while Ginebra has won some championships and has had some memorable playoff runs since then, some still hold the notion that they could achieve so much more given the strength of their line-ups on paper.
With both Slaughter and Aguilar now on the wrong side of 30 and with a long history of injuries with them, time is running out for the duo to showcase their talents together for a full season at a high level.
3. Blackwater Elite
Can they commit to this young core to lead their franchise?
This question is less about the talent of Blackwater’s incoming rookies Ray Parks Jr. (should they keep him), Paul Desiderio, and Abu Tratter as well as their returning young players like Mac Belo, Mike DiGregorio, Allein Maliksi, and Raymar Jose, and more about the direction that the Blackwater franchise is going.
Blackwater has had a history of hitting the reset button just as it seems like they have found something that can work. The Elite have consistently followed-up every encouraging conference they have had with an underwhelming one, after which they decide to reboot their line-up or even their coaching staff. For this upcoming season, despite having its most successful conference in franchise history in the 2018 Governor’s Cup, the Elite decided to trade away arguably its best player in JP Erram as well as Paul Zamar, another key contributor for unproven players.
One would hope that, with their embarrassment of promising young players, Blackwater has come up with a direction for their franchise that they are willing to commit to through thick and thin until they establish themselves as a contender. Unfortunately, immediately looking to trade Ray Parks, the second overall pick and arguably the most talented prospect in the draft, is not a good sign.
4. Columbian Dyip
Will they start performing (on and off the court) like a team that is serious in competing in the league?
What else is there to say about this franchise? From drafting Manny Pacquiao as a playing-coach (who barely played or coached) to players complaining about not getting paid, to allegations of selling their high draft picks to big-pocketed teams, the Columbian Dyip franchise has certainly left fans and its fellow PBA teams bewildered by their decisions.
With the PBA’s latest mandate on prohibiting number one overall picks from being traded, the Dyip now have a cornerstone to build around in CJ Perez. And while Perez and the Dyip management have been saying the rights things about turning a corner for the franchise, only time will tell if those words are sincere.
5. Magnolia Hotshots
Is the 2018 Governors’ Cup championship the first of many championships of a new era?
After failing to even reach the Finals in any conference during their three-year stint as the Purefoods Star, the Magnolia/Purefoods franchise decided to rebrand as the Magnolia Hotshots for the 2017-18 season. The franchise’s new name was immediately rewarded with two Finals appearances and one championship in its very first season.
With Paul Lee and head coach Chito Victolero leading the way, the Hotshots have all the tools to be consistent championship contenders for the years to come.
6. Meralco Bolts
Can they finally excel in the Philippine Cup?
For the past three years, the Meralco Bolts have struggled mightily in the Philippine Cup only to perform better in the succeeding Commissioner’s Cup and even more so in the Governors’ Cup. Will this be the year that the locals finally prove their worth?
They certainly have the talent for it. With Chris Newsome, Jared Dillinger, Baser Amer, and Cliff Hodge in tow, the Bolts have more than enough talent to compete with the best that the PBA has to offer. And as much as we would want the aforementioned players to perform more consistently given the opportunities given to them, a huge part of their struggles can be attributed to bad injury luck as well as the inability to find a capable young big man to succeed aging guys like Ranidel De Ocampo, Reynel Hugnatan, and Gabby Espinas.
Expect the Bolts to be on the lookout for underutilized promising young big men that they might be able to lure away with the right trade package.