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.
NLEX Road Warriors
Will Kiefer Ravena still be the same when he comes back?
As an up-and-coming team still figuring out its way towards being a consistent contender, there is nothing more important for the Road Warriors’ future right now than the status of their young franchise player, Kiefer Ravena. After receiving an 18-month ban from FIBA on all official basketball-related activities for inadvertently violating its guidelines on the use of banned substances last February, Ravena won’t be able to return to action until August of this year. Eighteen months of inactivity is a significant amount of time to miss for any athlete and could potentially hinder such a young player’s development and abilities.
NLEX still has some other roster issues to address (like its aging frontcourt) before it can become a legitimate contender, but their timeline along that path will greatly be affected with how much the ban has affected Ravena, if at all.
NorthPort Batang Pier
Will a full offseason without Terrence Romeo become the franchise’s turning point?
Ever since drafting Terrence Romeo in just its second year in the PBA, the Northport (then Globalport) franchise has been, for better or for worse, pretty much synonymous with the flamboyant guard out of FEU. But after lukewarm success with Romeo and a few publicized issues that eventually ended with a bitter fallout that led to Romeo being traded away to TNT after last season’s Philippine Cup, the Batang Pier are hoping that they can finally right the ship with their first full season without Romeo ahead of them.
With a talented core of Stanley Pringle, Sean Anthony, Mo Tautuaa, and Jonathan Grey as well as the polarizing rookie Robert Bolick coming into the fray, most of the pieces are in place for head coach Pido Jarencio to steer the ship in the right direction.
Phoenix Fuel Masters
Can they continue to rise in the Calvin Abueva era?
After disappointing finishes in the both the Philippine Cup and Commissioner’s Cup last season, the arrival of Calvin Abueva via trade for the Governors’ Cup (as well as their super import Eugene Phelps) not only resurrected the team last season, it also revived the franchise’s hopes of being a strong contender for the foreseeable future.
The feisty Abueva seemed to have lit a fire under the franchise that had been wandering in mediocrity for a few years, and the rest of the Phoenix community certainly hope that the previous Governors’ Cup was only the beginning of something new. And with the prolific Matthew Wright and the promising Jason Perkins, as well as reliable veterans such as JC Intal, RJ Jazul, and Alex Mallari, Abueva and the Fuel Masters have a well-balanced roster that can compete with anyone on any given day.
Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
How high is the team’s ceiling?
Speaking about well-balanced rosters, no other team probably embodies being well-balanced as much as Rain or Shine has throughout the years. Ever since Yeng Guiao’s time at the helm up to today with coach Caloy Garcia, the Rain or Shine franchise has always taken pride in how it gets the most out of every player and its equal opportunities system. That formula has led the franchise to consistently being a top-five team in the PBA. But with star-studded teams such as San Miguel, Ginebra, Magnolia, and TNT constantly dominating the league and with other teams looking to catch-up through trades or the draft, one must wonder how much higher this Elasto Painters team’s ceiling is when they don’t really have a reliable go-to star option on their roster, particularly in the Philippine Cup.
Even Alaska, which is also known for its egalitarian style of play, have Vic Manuel to go to in times of desperate need for production. And with Chris Tiu’s retirement, Rain or Shine just lost one of its most reliable creators.
With a froncourt rotation led by Raymond Almazan, Beau Belga, and Gabe Norwood, Rain or Shine is perhaps the only team that can boast that they have the personnel to contain the intimidating frontlines of San Miguel and Ginebra. However, the problem lies on the offensive end, where none of the aforementioned players as well as their backcourt are reliable creators they can go to when the offense isn’t running smoothly. Maybe their top rookie, J-Jay Alejandro, a do-it-all guard out of NU, can help in that regard. But pinning championship hopes on a rookie is far from ideal.
San Miguel Beermen
How much is too much?
The rich get richer, as they say. As if the acquisition of Christian Standhardinger in last year’s draft was not enough for the four-time defending Philippine Cup champions, the Beermen went ahead and pried a disgruntled Terrence Romeo away from TNT to further shore up their line-up. Oh and they also got Jimmy Alapag, one of the greatest point guards in PBA history who is perceived as one of the most promising coaches today, to be an assistant coach.
On paper, the Beerman are undoubtedly the most fearsome team in the league today (perhaps in history), but the games are decided on the court not on paper. There is always more to winning than simply getting the best individual players together, and this team should know given their struggles to win it all back when they were the Petron Blaze Boosters. But even those Petron teams are a far cry from the talent level of this current Beermen squad. June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Christian Standhardinger, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, Terrence Romeo. With that much talent on one team, something — or someone — has to give and sacrifice. And even then, there is always the risk that the whole will turn out to be less than the sum of its parts. Either that or, you know, utter dominance.
Can they regain their winning formula?
Just when things were finally looking up once again for TNT in 2017, the 2018 season happened and the team barely made any noise in any of the three conferences as they were booted out early in the playoffs twice and even failed to qualify in one. They also decided to end the Terrence Romeo experiment early as both the on-court fit and off-court issues proved to be too much of a burden for the franchise to work around.
As is the case with many of the PBA teams today, the KaTropa have an aging frontline that struggles to compete with the loaded frontcourts of contenders such as San Miguel and Ginebra. Jayson Castro is also already turning 32 years old this year with no consistent help from his backcourt-mates.
To once again be considered elite, this upcoming season should be the year that the younger players such as Jericho Cruz, RR Garcia, Roger Pogoy, and most especially Troy Rosario make a leap in their production and roles in the team to help Castro in carrying the load.