AS a new wave of talented rookies come in, veteran PBA players face losing jobs in what has become an annual ritual in the pro league.
This season, though, they're not your ordinary PBA veterans.
Two-time MVPs Willie Miller and Danny Ildefonso are among those who face being disenfranchised as the league's 12 teams rejig their respective lineups in anticipation of a bumper crop of rookies coming in led by Moala Tautuaa, Troy Rosario, and Chris Newsome.
Miller, 37, was given a two-conference contract by Talk 'N Text last season after a stint in a bush league in Marikina where he led the Siargao Legends to the championship last December.
Though he played limited action for the Texters, the top pick of the 2001 rookie draft doesn't hide that he wants to play one more season to serve as his farewell in a league where he was the best player in the 2002 and 2006-07 seasons.
“Sana mabigyan pa ko kahit one season pa, makapagpaalam lang sa mga fans. Kaya pa naman natin eh. May asim pa tayo kumbaga,” Miller told Spin.ph while flashing his trademark smile.
Ildefonso has been torn between retiring and playing on, but his chances of extending what has now been a 17-year career in the PBA depends on the personnel Meralco will get from the draft and free agent market.
With the return of Rabeh Al-Hussaini and the possible acquisition of free agent big man Justin Chua, a former back-up center of coach Norman Black at Ateneo, chances of Ildefonso returning to the Bolts look dimmer.
“Pinag-uusapan pa. Wala pang lumalabas na final plans. Kasi depende pa sa mangyayari sa draft namin eh. Hindi pa namin alam ang final lineup pa,” said Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo.
They Said It!
“I think Dorian Pena can still be a huge help for teams lacking in ceiling. Kia, Meralco, Blackwater can be a good destination for him." - jumpmanG3
“Hindi ko naman sinasabi na hindi namin isa-sign (si Ildefonso). Pero hindi pa namin nafa-finalize kung sino pa yung kukumpleto sa team,” he said of Ildefonso, whose sons Shaun and Sian Dave play for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and Eaglets, respectively.
So far, Meralco has not worked on renewals of the contracts of their 11 expirees as they are still waiting for the players they will get from the coming draft, where they are to pick fourth and seventh in the first round.
Ildefonso and Miller are not alone in their predicament.
Other veterans whose contracts will likely not be renewed by their respective teams are Sunday Salvacion, Paul Artadi and Eddie Laure of Blackwater, Leo Avenido and Rich Alvarez of Kia (now Mahindra Enforcers), and Barako’s Ronnie Matias, Bonbon Custodio and Isaac Holstein.
Every year, countless number of players, both former stars and shock troopers, fear the advent of draft season as this is the time of the year, where they literally fight for their lives in the PBA.
Former PBA star Nic Belasco, who left the PBA before the start of last season, said retirement is not easy for pro athletes, more so those who shone at the top level.
He bared the struggle of one day waking up no longer a part of the league.
“At the start, it was very difficult. As a basketball player, you are never really prepared for that moment as much as you prepare yourself," said the second overall pick of the 1997 draft and winner of eight championships in his career.
"I woke up one day and had nowhere to go and nothing to do. It was a scary feeling,” Belasco added.
A lot of veterans are struggling with that feeling right now.
Other former stars still looking for contract extensions are Don Allado of the Star Hotshots, John Ferriols and Mark Macapagal of Meralco and Ginebra’s Dorian Pena.