THE PBA is like one big jungle, where fittingly, only the toughest survives.
A week before the pro league ushers its 42nd season, numerous players found themselves without a team, even if a handful of them are still capable of competing at a level as high as the PBA.
A former MVP, a many-time scoring champion, a Finals MVP, two-time Mythical First Team selection, and a No.2 overall draft pick, make up the list of ‘unkind cuts’ for this year. These are the players who were no longer offered new contracts or renewed by their teams when their previous one expired, or found no other takers in free agency.
The league allows each team to have a 15-man lineup for the coming season, and with the influx of a new batch of rookies – especially the Gilas cadets – a number of them, both old and some not so old, were unfortunate enough to find themselves bumped off and left out in the cold.
Among the biggest names on the list are Eric Menk, Gary David, Mac Cardona, Dorian Pena, Samigue Eman, Josh Urbiztondo, and Jeric Teng.
Menk was the most decorated of them all, having been the 2004-05 MVP when he was still with Barangay Ginebra. The Fil-Am big man from Michigan won four league championships, was a 10-time All-Star, and was adjudged Best Player of the Conference and finals MVP three times.
Although lean and trim, age has obviously caught up with ‘Major Pain,’ who last suited up for Alaska and was part of the Aces’ back-to-back runner-up finishes during the Philippine and Governors Cups, respectively.
Along with Menk, the 6-foot-9 Eman was let go by the Aces.
Full of promise when he was tabbed by San Miguel as the second overall selection during the 2007 draft, the product of University of Mindanao failed to live up to expectations and never turned out to be the player everyone had expected him to be in a 10-year career split with the Beermen and Aces.
For a long time, David was considered one of the top gunners in the league, who was a scoring champion for four straight years (2010-14). 'El Granada' was a five-time All-Star and once reigned as the Best Player of the Conference during the 2011-12 Philippine Cup.
Apparently, his conflict with former team Meralco hurt his stock. After the Bolts dropped him to the unrestricted free agent list, San Miguel was quick to tap his services, but he never cracked the rotation of coach Leo Austria that by the end of the season, the 38-year-old shooting guard was released by the proud franchise.
Cardona was another wasted talent.
The 34-year-old shooting guard is one of the most explosive scorers the PBA had seen the last 10 years. Sadly, personal and problems got the better of him especially in his final season with NLEX.
When focused, the former La Salle star had shown what exactly he can do - as proof he is a five-time All-Star, a former Best Player of the Conference, a Mythical Team member, and a Finals MVP after steering TNT Katropa to the 2008-09 Philippine Cup championship.
Pena, 39, was a two-time All-Star, two-time Mythical Team member, and an All-Defensive team selection who was seldom used in his stint with Globalport, Urbiztondo never got settled at Phoenix despite being one of the team’s veterans and owner of a league championship (2012 Philippine Cup), an All-Star, and an all-rookie team, while Teng failed to get on track in his three-year stint with Rain or Shine despite a stellar amateur career.
Aside from Teng, other young notable ‘unkind cuts’ include 2015 NCAA Finals MVP Mark Cruz, Juami Tiongson, a first round pick by Blackwater in the 2014 draft, Jerick Canada, Raph Reyes, Nico Elorde, Jaymo Equilos, and Harold Arboleda.
Among the veterans waived were Josh Vanlandingham, Mark Isip, Jerwin Gaco, and Jai Reyes.
A second round pick by Powerade in the 2010 draft, Reyes, 29, however, is being primed for possible inclusion in the TNT Katropa coaching staff under new mentor Nash Racela, team insiders told SPIN.ph.