RUMOR: San Miguel Corp. was behind the decision of Greg Slaughter and Marcio Lassiter to pull out of the Gilas Pilipinas pool to the Fiba World Cup and Asian Games.
FACTS: When Greg Slaughter of Ginebra and San Miguel guard Marcio Lassiter pulled out one after the other from the Gilas Pilipinas pool on Friday night, accusing fingers were inevitably pointed at San Miguel Corp. as being behind the decision.
The suspicion, of course, is understandable.
The giant conglomerate, which owns three teams in the PBA and controls as much as six if you believe talk in the grapevine, had not been too eager to lend players to this version of the national team which, it should be pointed out, is run by people associated with the rival MVP group.
For the team to the last Fiba-Asia championships alone, San Miguel's three teams loaned a grand total of four players to Gilas, namely Marc Pingris from San Mig, June Mar Fajardo from Petron/San Miguel, and LA Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar from Barangay Ginebra.
However, it should be pointed out that Aguilar and Tenorio were already part of the Gilas pool even before they moved to the Ginebra camp. In effect, the San Miguel teams never really went beyond the one-player-per-team policy agreed upon by the league board.
Now comes the new Gilas Pilipinas pool where national coach Chot Reyes added five players to the original lineup that finished second to Iran in the last Fiba Asia championship in Manila, thereby earning a place among the world's finest in the Fiba World Cup in Spain.
Interestingly, from the five new faces Rain or Shine's Paul Lee and Beau Belga as well as Meralco's Jared Dillinger jumped at the chance to suit up for Gilas while the two players from San Miguel-controlled teams - Slaughter and Lassiter - have suddenly dropped out.
Lassiter made a quick denial when asked if management had a hand in his decision to quit the pool, saying it ""wouldn't feel right"" if he denies a Gilas original a ticket to Spain while citing his battle with injuries as having had a hand in his decision.
""This wasn't management decision but this is a personal decision,"" he insisted. ""SMC has not had anything to do with this decision.""
Contacted for comment, Reyes said he ""respected"" the two's decision.
""You know me, it's never my style to force anyone to play for my teams,"" said the Gilas coach, sticking to his official line but unable to resist putting out a cryptic comment near the end of the short conversation with Spin.ph.
""Now you know how hard my job is,"" he chuckled.
To be fair, the reason put forward by the two was noble enough. Slaughter and Lassiter said they didn't want to take away spots from the Original Twelve that worked so hard to bring the Philippines back to the world championships after nearly four decades of absence.
However, that same line is double-edged, to say the least, since it has now put Lee, Belga, and Dillinger in very awkward no-win positions.
With Slaughter and Lassiter's decision to step aside, the three may have been unwittingly painted as the 'bad guys' for showing the willingness to compete with the Original Twelve for spots in the Spain-bound team.
Also, team insiders also pointed out that if it was Slaughter and Lassiter's intention to let the Original Twelve have the honor of playing in the World Cup as reward for their hard work in the Fiba Asia championships, they could have stepped aside for Spain tournament and made themselves available for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea where their services are certainly needed by Gilas.
According to league insiders, Reyes was left stunned when Slaughter and Lassiter informed him of their decision to pull out of the pool during Gilas' first practice on Monday. He accepted the two's decisions but at the same time told them to be the ones to ""explain their decisions"" to the people, the source added.
One person close to Reyes perhaps summed up the national coach's feeling.
""Si Slaughter at Lassiter pa lang 'yan. Si Slaughter nga kasama pa sa original pool,"" he said. ""Papaano pa kung kinuha n'ya si Mark Barroca, Arwind Santos, etc.""
But more than the effect the two withdrawals will have on the Gilas campaign, the development have once again showed the divisions within a board that, after the Fiba Asia success, had vowed to stand solidly behind Gilas and the national team program.
Regardless of whether the suspicions on San Miguel are true or not, the lines in the league have sadly once again been drawn again, with Gilas caught in the middle. And expect the divisions to show between now and the national team's campaign in the World Cup and the Asian Games.
So is SMC behind the decision for the duo's pullout?
Your guess is as good as ours.