KIA is on a slippery slope and no one knows who can step on the brakes?
The PBA expansion team hasn't won a game in eight months - or not since a 122-121 overtime victory over Phoenix in the tailend of the Commissioner's Cup eliminations last May 21, 2017 - and the situation is bound to get worse before it gets better.
According to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III, KIA's 16-game losing streak during that stretch is the third longest in the pro league's 43-year history, behind only the 18 straight losses of Great Taste in 1980 and Ginebra's 17 in 1995.
All these losses, coming in the wake of a controversial offseason trade that saw the franchise give up the top pick overall in the PBA Rookie Draft in a trade with San Miguel for three bench players and a future draft pick, have put the ballclub under greater scrutiny.
In fact, its most recent losses - a 47-point loss (124-77) to Magnolia last week and a 37-point beatdown (102-65) at the hands of Alaska last Sunday - have raised concerns on whether the Picanto have become a serious threat to the league's balance.
To get a better perspective, SPIN.ph asked the coaches of three of the four teams which beat KIA in the current PBA Philippine Cup, namely Yeng Guiao of NLEX, Alex Compton of Alaska and Phoenix's Louie Alas. All three want to give KIA the benefit of the doubt.
Guiao, who in his long career had overseen the rise of expansion teams like Swift, Red Bull and Rain or Shine, sees a tough road ahead for the Picanto, whose lineup of mostly unheralded players has been riduculed as 'Pangcanto' by some netizens.
Guiao, however, is not giving up on the team.
“Palagay ko makakabalik, pero mabigat yung pagdadaanan nila,” said Guiao. “It’s going to be an uphill battle. They’re going to have to draw really deep into their mental toughness to be able to come back.”
Guiao and Compton stressed the coaching change the Picanto had to undergo just two games into the season - which saw Ricky Dandan take over after Chris Gavina's resignation - has factored heavily in the team’s early struggle.
The Picanto, who underwent an overhaul in the offseason supervised by Gavina and team manager Joe Lipa that ushered an 'unconventional' style of play, actually fared decently in its season debut, forcing Guiao and NLEX to endure anxious moments before dropping a close 119-115 decision.
But it has gone downhill since, with the two losses under Dandan's watch, by an average losing margin of 42 points, counting as the worst back-to-back defeats in the league 'at least until 1992,' according to Mangonon.
“I think they are just in the midst of trying to figure out a system, a new way to play. It’s really hard to take over in the middle (of a tournament) when the season has already started,” stressed Compton.
“To me what is happening now is really just an adjustment thing, with the new coach and a new system. And to do that in a week’s time, mahirap talaga yun,” added Guiao. “Maybe we should give them a little bit more time.”
Alas, however, pointed out the obvious, saying the team simply lacked personnel to compete against the other teams.
“Alam naman natin magagaling yung coaches nila, si coach Ricky subok na rin naman yan,” said Alas. “Pero kahit sobrang galing ng coach mo, kung kulang ka ng pieces medyo mahihirapan ka. Makaka-close game ka, pero hanggang kailan?”
Alas believes KIA is still three to four reliable players away from becoming a real contender in the league. Worse the team can't look forward to any boost in the future, after giving up the right to pick highly touted Fil-German Christian Standhardinger in the last draft.
“Yung effort naman nandun, nakikita naman natin pag naglalaro sila. Pero hindi pwedeng effort lang. Kailangan talaga may materyales ka. I’m not saying na wala sila, kulang lang yung materyales nila,” he added.
Guiao, who had been one of the most vocal critics of the Standhardinger trade, was actually surprised when the Road Warriors took on the Picanto in their debut game.
“Nung una nga tingin ko panlaban, kasi naramadaman namin yung lakas nila. We felt that they really improved,” he said. “I think they have improved from last year. Andiyan na si Jay-R, who’s really playing very well, andiyan yung McCarthy, si Tubid. I think those pieces are better than they had last year.
“But sometimes meron talagang ganung sitwasyon when you think all the ingredients are there, you’re doing it right, only to wake up one day and realize that you have a big problem.”
That problem is bound to persist if KIA won’t make an immediate move to shake its roster, according to Alas.
“(Dapat) as soon as possible. Ganun naman pag natatalo ka, you have to find a way and yun ang nakikita ko,” Alas said. “Hindi naman (yan matatagalan), kung talagang mage-exert sila ng effort and money to be competitive.”
Before anyone could question KIA's desire to be competitive or raise a perceived threat on the balance of the league, Compton and Guiao stressed they expect a team led by Dandan and Lipa to keep fighting - and eventually turn it around.
That means any talk of a perceived threat to league balance is premature.
“I know they have some competitors in that team. I know coach Ricky is a competitor,” said the Alaska mentor of his first-ever coach in the old MBA. “I’ve been in that situation before, and it could be a challenge. I hope they keep on going.”
Guiao sees it the same way.
"I know coach Ricky, I know coach Joe Lipa," said the NLEX coach of his fellow University of the Philippines alum. "I know their organization is very supportive and they will go all out to find remedies."