So what’s next for the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings?
Move on from the tragic possibilities of the final eight seconds of their knockout game with Globalport. Soak in what’s left of the holiday spirit. Scout around for a Sean Chambers type of import for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup who can cover for all their individual deficiencies.
Then take to heart whatever coach Tim Cone instructs them to do, even if that entails going back and relearning Triangle 101.
Cone has been too successful with the triple-post offense for him to sacrifice his philosophy in order to accommodate Ginebra’s tendency to veer away from a structured system and return to a familiar, free-flowing, uncomplicated, crowd-endearing run-and-gun game.
With 18 PBA championships to his name, the two-time Grand Slam champion can be headstrong all he wants; he has the goods to be. And the Kings have to realize that.
Though their genes and pedigree may scream American Pharoah and horse racing, the man on the reins favors dressage, show jumping and Olympic-style equestrian events.
So less of that running. Swing the ball around, the passer cuts to the strong side, the center at the low post, the forward at the wing, the guard at the corner, so on and so forth, until the defense breaks down, losing track of all the endless movement and leaving a player free for a wide-open shot before the 24-second shot clock expires.
The isolation becomes an option only as a result of broken-down situations, with patience, organization and execution – basically the hallmark of the triangle offense as passed on by US Hall of Fame coach Sam Barry to Tex Winter to Phil Jackson and to all the other coaching disciples around the globe, led by a certain Tim Cone – slowly seeping into the Kings’ system, the way it permeated the Alaska team of 1996 and San Mig Super Coffee (Purefoods) in 2014.
For the Kings, starting with the Commissioner’s Cup, the key is to say goodbye to their old ways and buy into Cone’s system. Waiting 10 years for a title is long enough. Worse, a sell-out crowd of more than 20,000 for a playoff game isn’t worth its numbers if its team can’t even get past the quarterfinals.
That 84-83 overtime loss to Globalport, which denied the Kings a place in the Final Four, may also be symptomatic of what ails Ginebra other than its unfamiliarity with Cone’s system.
Against a team whose toughest frontline presence is a 6-foot-4 power forward (Doug Kramer) and a 6-foot-5 backup center who the Kings traded away eight months ago (Billy Mamaril), Ginebra, with a 7-foot center and a 6-foot-10 forward blocking the skies, could just claim a 34 to 32 edge in points in the paint and 12-7 in second chance points despite a 62-49 rebound advantage.
Greg Slaughter had 18 rebounds that night, but Japeth Aguilar just had four, lower than the seven of Mark Caguioa and Chris Ellis, the six of Joe Devance and Joseph Yeo, the five of Jervy Cruz, and the nine of point guard LA Tenorio.
Of Mamaril, former Crispa Redmanizer Itoy Esguerra, a gunner who nonetheless appreciates the bruising contact that goes on inside the paint, had this to say shortly after the trade with Dave Marcelo last April: “I can’t understand why Ginebra would let go of Billy Mamaril. He’s the only player they have who can stand up to Beau Belga (of Rain or Shine). Siya ang panapat nila sa mga malalaki ng ibang teams.”
The Kings also lacked a zone-breaking shooter outside Tenorio, who was 5 of 8 from 3-point range while Sol Mercado went 1 of 8, Aguilar 0 of 3 and Caguioa 1 of 4. With the zone apparently the bane of the triangle, Ginebra badly needed an extra shooter to drag the Batang Pier out of the 2-3 defensive formation but sadly found none that evening.
There’s also the temptation, and perhaps the good sense, of handing over to rookie point guard Scottie Thompson the No. 1 position while moving Tenorio over to No. 2, allowing the former Ateneo Blue Eagle star to focus more on scoring than exhausting himself doing that while setting up teammates who couldn’t deliver.
That would mean lesser playing time for Caguioa and Mercado, even Jayjay Helterbrand, but what alternatives are left? Now if only the Kings didn’t let go of Joseph Yeo, now the Batang Pier’s No. 4 scorer behind Terrence Romeo, Stanley Pringle and Jay Washington.
Thompson played just 10:32 minutes against Globalport last Saturday, getting burned by playoff pressure and hardly mattering. He was scoreless with just one assist.
Yet the memory of Cone raising both hands in jubilation after Thompson hit Slaughter with a no-look pass recently, which Slaughter turned into a two-handed slam and a three-point play, remains fresh and should provide the impetus for the Kings coach to trust playmaking chores to the one who reminds him so much of a point guard named Johnny Abarrientos.
Lastly, effort may have to be made to convince both Aguilar and Chris Ellis that while the dunk is a great offensive weapon, the truly legendary flyers, from Dr. J to Jordan to LeBron, also have a mix of pull-up jumpers, fall-aways, turn-arounds, reverse layups, three-pointers and finger rolls in their arsenal to make them more complete and effective.