14 December 2014

Is There A 'Famville' Team in the PBA?

PBA Farm Teams
Even before the start of the 2014-2015 season, the Barako Bull Energy Cola was suspected by many basketball observers to be a 'farm team' of three San Miguel Corporation (SMC) teams: Barangay Ginebra, Purefoods Star Hotshots and San Miguel Beermen. That suspicion was based on several questionable personnel moves made during the off-season.

Last year, the team terminated Rajko Toroman's contract as its active consultant, and kept Bong Ramos as its coach. They then proceeded to trade away all their three first round picks in 2013 for seldom-used veterans, which former team manager Raffy Casyao considers as 'team strategy.' Casyao justified their move and explained that they wanted to get quality, tried and tested veteran players that can give them some impact right away, as opposed to rebuilding the team with rookies from the ground up.

As a result of these 2013 off-season moves, they lost Danny Seigle to free agency, and added loads of veterans Dennis Miranda, Rico Maierhofer, Willie Wilson, Willie Miller, Robert Labagala, and Dorian Peña. They also drafted ex-UST stalwart Jeric Fortuna and Benildean star Carlo Lastimosa. However, the move cost them the chance to draft promising players, James Forrester and Terrence Romeo.

In the midst of 2013 - 2014 PBA season Siot Tanquingcen took over as the Barako Bulls new head coach replacing Bong Ramos, However just 2 days before the start of the 2014–15 PBA Philippine Cup The Barako Bulls management decided to part ways with Tanquinsen sighting professional differences, Assistant Coach Koy Banal was named the new head coach, but their appears to be more than that.

Just days after Tanquingcen was replaced by Banal on the eve of the start of the season, the PBA ballclub announced that Casyao has been replaced by former University of Santo Tomas player Reymark Rodriguez as team manager.

Aside from that, it was alleged by several sports scribes that three more top officials have also been relieved. They include George Chua's son Paul, who used to be part of the team operations. Also gone are alternate governor Eric Noora as well as assistant team manager Jay Llanos Dee. It was not yet known who will replace the three in the Barako Bull front office.

Barako Bull, formerly known as Air21, is co-owned by Bert Lina and Chua. Chua owns 51 percent of the franchise and Lina 49 percent.

It was also learned that the Barako Bull team’s bottled water supply is being supplied by San Miguel while the players’ salaries are drawn from a bank also under the SMC umbrella, once again fanning the suspicions.

Last year, Barako acquired ex-UST stalwart Jeric Fortuna as the 14th pick in the draft only to trade him a year later to a seldom-used Paolo Hubalde of the San Miguel Beermen. The 22-year-old Fortuna, is coming off an impressive rookie season despite playing in limited minutes behind Denok Miranda and averaged 7.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the Energy’s first four games this season under Koy Banal.

Seemingly unperturbed by the one-sided deals in favor of SMC teams, Barako made another deal, this time with the Hotshots, where they sent the six-foot-nine starting center Mick Pinnisi in exchange for sophomore Isaac Holstein and journeyman Ronnie Matias. Curiously, the trade was made just a few days before the start of the playoffs where the Hotshots face a twice-to-win situation against the Meralco Bolts.

Another straight up swap was supposed to take place after that involving San Miguel Beer's Sol Mercado and Denok Miranda of Barako Bull, but it was pulled out at the last minute after the PBA Commissioner's Office disapproved of a second transaction between the two teams allegedly involving another Barako big man Dorian Peña.

After its failure to acquire Miranda, the Beermen negotiated a deal with the GlobalPort Batang Pier that will see the return of Alex Cabagnot to his former team who will then shipped Mercado, as well as a couple of future picks, to GlobalPort. It was hinted that Mercado may be sent later to Barako, along with another player, in exchange for Nico Salva and rookie Jake Pascual.

All these wheeling and dealing had a lot of pundits saying that the team is bound to be sold soon to one of the companies that SMC had invested enough shares. If this is true, then expect a four-way fight within the SMC family for the right to utilize 'farmville' in the PBA.

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