LOUIE Alas wants to make it plain and simple.
Phoenix's failure to register enough wins during his last full PBA season in charge led to his departure as coach of the Fuel Masters.
He said things need not be further complicated. The team didn’t meet expectations in the last two conferences of the season when it both missed the playoffs, notwithstanding a breakthrough semifinals stint in the Philippine Cup.
Phoenix management didn’t disclose the reason for the parting of ways, but only mentioned in its official statement that it let go of Alas ‘after much deliberation.’
Alas, 56, also refused to divulge the reasons cited by management for letting him go, but hinted about something when he said the team ‘need not look for justification.’
“Hindi na kailangang maghanap ng justification or what. Talo kami nung last two conferences, e,” said Alas hours after being given the pink slip.
“Alam ko yung sitwasyon na performance-based ito. Call nila talaga 'yan. Wala akong magagawa diyan. That’s their prerogative.”
The Fuel Masters performed well in the season-opening all-Filipino conference as they ended up the No. 1 team going to the playoffs. The team reached the semis for the first time in franchise history, but lost to a veteran and experienced champion in San Miguel Beer in the best-of-seven series, 4-1.
But things began to unravel when star forward Calvin Abueva was indefinitely suspended by the league early in the Commissioner’s Cup. Original import choice Rob Dozier also went down with an injury and had to be replaced by Richard Howell.
The Fuel Masters also had to make do with injuries to some of their players all the way to the Governors Cup such as LA Revilla (since traded to NorthPort) and JC Intal. Go-to-guy Matthew Wright, Alex Mallari, and RJ Jazul likewise played hurt for the rest of the season.
Phoenix though, put up a good fight in the Commissioner’s Cup even without a complete roster, losing out for the eighth and final quarterfinals berth via a lower quotient.
The Fuel Masters limped home in the season conference finale, finishing second to last behind Blackwater.
“Primarily yung mga injury and suspension. Si Calvin suspendido nung last two conferences. Pero kahit ganun, two to three possessions lang kami natatalo,” Alas, who has won titles with Letran in the NCAA, the Manila Metrostars in the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), and the Philippine Patriots in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), pointed out.
“Anyway, hindi ko naman ginagawang excuse 'yun. Talo pa rin, e. Yun ang bottomline.”
But with a complete and healthy roster, Phoenix definitely can compete as records would prove.
“Ang sinasabi ko nga, yung first two conferences na kumpleto kami at nandiyan si Calvin, napakaganda ng win-loss record namin. Nag No. 1 pa nga kami,” said Alas, a former national coach who steered the Philippines to the gold medal in the 1999 Southeast Asian Games.
Since Abueva came on board starting in the 2018 Governors Cup, the Fuel Masters made the playoffs back-to-back. They actually finished the eliminations as the No. 2 seed that same conference, but were ambushed in the quarterfinals by Meralco.
During that stretch, including the 2019 Philippine Cup, Phoenix tallied a combined 19-11 (win-loss) mark.
But with Abueva out and injuries hounding the Fuel Masters, they finished with a total of 7-15 record in the last two conferences under Alas.
“Kaya naming manalo kahit wala si Calvin, pero 'yung chance na manalo mas maganda kung nandiyan siya,” Alas added.
Again, Alas said there’s no excuses at all.
“I’m all for the welfare of the team,” he added. “Empleyado lang nila ako. Kung ano ang alam ninyong maganda, kayo ang magde-desisyon niyan.”
Alas’ three-year contract was to expire by next month. He actually has no idea if management will still honor it even if it is a guaranteed deal.
But despite the relationship no longer healthy – compounded more when Phoenix suspended Alas for 15 days without pay for violation of health protocols – the coach said he’s more than willing to continue calling the shots for the team had there be a PBA season amid the pandemic.
“Puwede kong ilaban ito hanggang dulo. Ang feeling ko ngayon (lalo) kapag bumalik si Calvin, may tsansa na ulit kami,” said the champion coach.
“Lalaban ito dahil competitive yung team, especially now level na yung playing field dahil wala nga si June Mar (Fajardo).”
Alas on Saturday fired a tweet thanking the players and management for the chance to coach the Fuel Masters.
Alas’ head deputy Topex Robinson will take over his post in an interim capacity.