Tim Cone wary of rough patch for Ginebra; TNT beefs up on NLEX talent anew
Coach Tim Cone admitted that Barangay Ginebra may have to deal with some rough patches once it gets back on the floor for its next mission: win the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup for the third successive time.
“We were at such a high playing Bay Area in the [Commissioner’s Cup] Finals that it will be difficult to reach that level when we return to practice in the new conference,” Cone told the Inquirer days after defeating the Dragons for the midseason title.
Not only that, teams are building up to shoot down the Kings, among them TNT, which added another player from sister squad NLEX to its arsenal.
The league’s trade committee gave the nod on the deal that sent big man Justin Chua to the flagship franchise of the MVP Group, giving the one-time Defensive Player of the Year a fresh start after seeing a decrease in playing time with the Road Warriors.
Chua will be joined by Paul Varilla at TNT, which also got NLEX’s second round pick in next season’s draft. But Phoenix had to get involved in order for the deal to push through as the PBA prohibits teams under one ownership to make direct trades.
Phoenix unloaded veteran forward Sean Anthony and Jake Pascual to NLEX while acquiring J-Jay Alejandro, Raul Soyud and a future pick in the 52nd season from TNT.
This marks the third time that NLEX shipped a top-shelf player to TNT since 2020, with Chua joining ex-NLEX stalwarts Poy Erram and Calvin Oftana at the Tropang Giga camp.
Erram was dealt in February 2020 after one season with the Road Warriors while Oftana, who blossomed as a main offensive weapon under former NLEX coach coach Yeng Guiao, was traded to the Tropang Giga before the recent Commissioner’s Cup.
NLEX also yielded its No. 4 pick of the 2021 Draft to TNT, which the Tropang Giga used to select high-scoring guard Mikey Williams.
Ginebra took down the visitors from Hong Kong after seven grueling games, sealing the deal before 54,589 fans at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, in what could be the most rewarding for Cone since he began calling the shots for the country’s most popular team.
But the three-week space between the end of the series with the Dragons and the start of their third conference campaign on Feb. 5 against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters may put the Gin Kings at a disadvantage at first.
That’s why Cone is hoping that Ginebra can get its bearings within the elimination round, and perhaps get into form once playoff time comes around.
“We’ll have to rebuild the momentum as we go through the conference,” he said.
Justin Brownlee will try to give the Gin Kings a seventh championship with him in the import-laden conference following a huge performance against the Dragons in the recent Finals.
The vaunted local lineup led by Scottie Thompson, Commissioner’s Cup Finals Most Valuable Player Christian Standhardinger and Jamie Malonzo will also look to adjust on the quick turnaround.
Chua was hailed as the league’s best defensive player by the PBA Press Corps in the 2020 Philippine Cup bubble when the former Ateneo standout was still suiting up for Phoenix.
He was part of Guiao’s regular rotation at NLEX before his minutes dwindled under coach Frankie Lim, who took over when Guiao left for Rain or Shine.