Missing 3 pillars
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2020 - 12:00am

With the absence of three towers in the PBA Philippine Cup set to unfold on March 8, the competition for the championship has suddenly been thrown wide open.  Five-time defending champion San Miguel Beer was the early choice to dominate but when June Mar Fajardo went down with a fractured right tibia, it’s now a big question mark if coach Leo Austria can regroup his troops to fill the void.

Barangay Ginebra, fresh from capturing the Governors Cup, was tipped to seriously challenge San Miguel for the crown and coach Tim Cone himself said he’s out to win his first All-Filipino title with the franchise. That was before Greg Slaughter announced he would take a sabbatical. Slaughter isn’t sure when he’ll be back on the court. His contract with Ginebra has expired and he’s not negotiating a renewal, at least not yet. He wants to take a break, rest, recover and revitalize. Slaughter has endured a lot of injuries in his career and it’s a good time to take a step back. Ginebra fans hope he’ll return sooner than later. The hiatus may actually extend his career in the long run.

Then, there’s Raymond Almazan, another big guy who’s a rim protector and a pick-and-roll-or-pop artist. Meralco will miss his services as Rock ‘N’ Roll recovers from surgery to repair a lateral meniscal tear in his left knee. Almazan sat out Game 5 of the recent Governors Cup finals and the consensus was if he was healthy, the series would’ve gone to a Game 7. 

No one man can fill the shoes of Fajardo, Slaughter or Almazan. That’s how valuable they are. And their absence will surely be exploited by opposing teams. San Miguel will rotate Mo Tautuaa, Billy Mamaril and probably Russel Escoto to cover for Fajardo. Ginebra could elevate Japeth Aguilar to five with Prince Caperal as back-up. Joe De Vance may even be called to play the low block. Meralco will lean on Bryan Faundo, Reynel Hugnatan, Toto Jose and maybe, Ranidel de Ocampo if he’s healthy or even Jason Ballesteros who was suited up for the Governors Cup but never played. 

It’s not easy to make personnel adjustments when you’re compensating for a key piece. Fajardo is a five-time MVP and in the last Philippine Cup, was the Best Player of the Conference and led San Miguel to the throne. Slaughter is the tallest local in the league and his presence around the basket is overpowering. Almazan may be the most versatile center around and his impact on the game will be sorely missed. The absence of the three bigs leaves the door open for any team to seize the opportunity and crash the finals party.

With the three out of commission, Alaska’s Sonny Thoss will get a chance to do a little more damage in his farewell conference even as Abu Tratter and Rodney Brondial are expected to share most of the minutes at center. Rain or Shine’s Beau Belga, Jewel Ponferada and Norbert Torres will play key roles in coach Caloy Garcia’s frontline rotation along with rookies Prince Rivero and Vince Tolentino. Blackwater recruited 35-year-old rookie Maurice Shaw who could shake up things in the interior with his 6-8, 260-pound frame. Rabeh Al Hussaini, Chris Javier, James Sena and free agent Jonjon Gabriel are also in coach Nash Racela’s cast of bigs.

Columbian will turn to Jeepy Faundo, Joseph Gabayni and rookie Chris Balagasay for inside help but the Dyip’s hopes are hinged on C. J. Perez, Rashawn McCarthy and rookie Roosevelt Adams. Magnolia is solid up front with Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis. Marc Pingris, Kyle Pascual and Jackson Corpuz are also tough interior operators. NLEX will take advantage of the missing threesome with Poy Erram, Asi Taulava and Raul Soyud. 

Clearly, the big man of the moment will be NorthPort’s Christian Standhardinger, fresh from taking the Best Player of the Conference award in the recent Governors Cup. Bradwyn Guinto and Kelly Nabong will be his relievers. With Standhardinger in harness, NorthPort could be the darkhorse of the Philippine Cup. Phoenix has retired Doug Kramer but back in action to romp in the paint will be Dave Marcelo and Jorey Napoles with support from newly-acquired Jake Pascual and Jay-R Reyes.

TNT is teeming with backcourt talent and coach Mark Dickel may want to balance his roster by adding depth to his frontline. Yousef Taha and Marion Magat are the centers of attention. If Kelly Williams is healthy, he could anchor the charge at the five spot. While the PBA will miss the big three, it’s a window of opportunity for the other teams to tilt the balance of power in the league.

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