Great expectations lead to great disappointment. The Grand Slam is the highest achievement in local basketball — an entire year of excellence in three different conferences.
It has only happened five times since 1976. Crispa won it twice with two different coaches. Tim Cone won it twice with two different teams.
San Miguel Beer wanted to elevate itself into that ultra-exclusive pantheon with Crispa of two-time grand slam winners. They have failed twice in the last three seasons, both in the Governor’s Cup, and both to Ginebra, their “sister” team.
The price of dominance
The Beermen won two out of three possible championships. Even if they finished dead last in the Governors’ Cup, they were the best team in the league. For the past five seasons, they have won 8 out of 15 titles, behind the only five-time, consecutive MVP winner, JuneMar Fajardo.
Winning two out of three titles would have been reason for celebration for any other team, but the Beermen, even if they do celebrate (rightfully so) will end the year thinking that they didn’t get the job done.
There would be many points of regret, as this was a rollercoaster conference, shamefully ending with a controversial off-court incident that saw the departure of Dez Wells and the indefinite suspension of Kelly Nabong, Arwind Santos and Ronald Tubid.
Losing by only three points against the Gin Kings, it’s hard not to think that the results would’ve been different if these players had contributed.
The last of them?
It was one of the dominant eras in PBA history but is it over? JuneMar Fajardo cannot win it alone, and for the past five seasons, SMB has assembled the best complementary unit for him. But Father Time is undefeated, and the aging unit may no longer be championship quality. JMF himself has his weaknesses unraveled.
Will there be a revamp at the SMB camp? After operating at championship or bust mode, it looks like the off-season will be a busy one for the league’s winningest team.
Rumors abound that the team is looking at the other two top rookies this year: CJ Perez and Robert Bolick. After MVP empire flagship team Talk N’ Text acquired Ray Parks, it seems like the logical, retaliatory course.
However, while that is an obvious move, SMB could implement subtle changes. Since they failed in their lofty mission, they now have too many “what ifs?” and the biggest one of them is the trade involving Christian Standhardinger.
C-Stan was seen as “wasting away” in the SMB roster—a premiere talent forced on the bench. He could start for any other team, and now he does. But the goal was for C-Stan to start for Ginebra or Magnolia, apparently.
There will be changes, and blockbuster trades, but it might not be the obvious “SMB Vets/draft picks for CJ Perez.” There could be preliminary moves involving the other two SMC teams.
End of an era
The jury might be too early for Mo Tautuaa, but it is sufficient to say that SMB wants more from him. However, Big Mo doesn’t help the issues of how SMB’s game doesn’t keep up with the quickening pace of the game. This is where Phoenix could come in.
The Phoenix Fuelmasters are playing position-less basketball, because they are forced to. They are known to field lineups of five players all standing 6’2-6’4. They had their best Philippine Cup finish this season, but their early exit shows that when it counts, positions and match-ups do matter.
San Miguel Beer is up for some trades, with Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot possibly at the center of the movement. But it won’t stop there. JMF, Terrence Romeo and Chris Ross will be the cornerstones of SMB, but the players around them may be different. Marcio Lassiter may also be retained.
Of course, these are still musings of a clueless observer.
Two days before the draft deadline, there is still a lack of big names. The trade restriction is a bummer, but TNT proved it can be skirted (see Ray Parks trade). Money will still win, and the tycoons need not worry.