While talking about Talk ‘N Text’s ouster at the hands of the San Miguel Beermen the other day with a friend, he wondered if the former’s championship window had closed and that they had gone as far as their roster could go.
I thought about it for a moment then said, “No.”
As much as the PBA looks at the NBA for inspiration, the general welfare of the homegrown squads is way different.
For one, there is no brutal schedule where teams have to play a minimum of 82 games.
Second, the local players do not have to spend long weeks on the road and sometimes playing on back-to-back nights. And that counts for a lot as half a team’s matches are played on the road. The only nightmarish travel PBA players have to contend with is the Metro Manila traffic (don’t remind Yeng Guiao about this).
And lastly, there’s the short break between conferences that allows a modicum of recovery.
So how does that relate to TNT and the rest of the PBA? Look at Purefoods for example. Some time after they won their second title under former head coach Ryan Gregorio in the 2006 All-Filipino Conference, they looked done while TNT looked to become the dominant PBA dynasty.
The only three players to have crossed over from Gregorio’s time to current head coach Tim Cone’s squad James Yap, PJ Simon, and Marc Pingris. Even as they lost Kerby Raymundo, Roger Yap, and Jondan Salvador, this squad re-tooled by acquiring veteran players like Joe Devance and Rafi Reavis and drafted smartly as they acquired Mark Barroca, Justin Melton, and Ian Sangalang. They also acquired some young talent through trades such as Alex Mallari and Yousef Taha. They brought tall, smart, and athletic players – key ingredients in any championship squad.
If you look at TNT, after winning the Philippine Cup in Norman Black’s first try, they looked good over the space of the next year or so. For a time, they were undefeated until they ran into San Mig Coffee that was hitting its stride.
The Tropang Texters also paid the price for bearing the brunt of national team duty. Think about it – they had key players who have been playing almost non-stop for even after the PBA season ended – Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Ranidel De Ocampo, Jayson Castro, and Larry Fonacier (even Ryan Reyes also saw some duty). Even in the pre-FIBA World Cup, Jay Washington was back on national team duty. So after a while they ran out of gas. And it has clearly affected them during a long season where they would almost always go deep in the playoffs
Now, if you look at current head coach Jong Uichico’s squad, they still have eight players from their recent title squads still playing –Alapag, Harvey Carey, Reyes, Fonacier, Castro, Williams, De Ocampo, and Aaron Aban. They have added balik-TNT Washington and Rob Reyes and brought in through the draft and draft day trades – Kevin Alas and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser. That’s a darn pretty good line-up. They’ve got defensive beasts, athletes, shooters, and smart players. While some like Alapag and Carey have logged significant mileage (along with Danny Seigle), they’re still effective in spot duty.
The Alaska teams that bridged the latter years of the Tim Cone era to the title won with Luigi Trillo at the helm and now with Alex Compton are three constants – Sonny Thoss, Tony De La Cruz, and Cyrus Baguio (you can throw in Sam Eman there for good measure). The Aces have reloaded with some very talented newbies and cagey veterans. They are tall, athletic, deep, and smart. Not to mention tough. They have the ingredients to win.
Let’s face it – TNT ran into a San Miguel team that has the best big man in the local game today – JuneMar Fajardo. His rapid development has been frightening and there isn’t a doubt that he will be terrorizing opponents for years to come.
For other teams to figure out the Beermen, it has to involve stopping Fajardo (as they can match up in other positions).
But back to the Tropang Texters. I don’t think they are done. I would like to also offer unsolicited advice to their coach staff who are very good friends. They might want to look at how San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich plays his bench to afford his ageing Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili plenty of rest. While I am not a fan of the Spurs, I totally appreciate their selfless play and adherence to a team game. If they were previously tabbed as “boring” well, I don’t think so. If boring equates to a championship then I don’t think the Spurs or their fans mind.
Besides, as I pointed out, TNT has the depth and talent to compete.
Clearly I think another conference under Jong Uichico they will be okay. There’s the adjustment period as well to a new head coach.
But having said that, the next two conferences are import dependent. TNT’s fortunes will also depend on the import they are able to land. They need that frontcourt impact player and rim protector to vault them back into contention. If nothing happens by season’s end, then they might want to consider a little rebuilding
Now that’s a while to go.