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    Purefoods, SMB, Rain or Shine, Alaska all gain thumbs-up from our man on the beat. See PBA preview

    Oct 19, 2014
    Manny Pacquiao, James Yap and Paul Lee will be gaining a lot of attention, both the right and wrong reasons, when the PBA's 40th season unfolds. Jerome Ascano


    Rookies: Juami Tiongson, Brian Heruela

    Strengths: Blackwater, under comebacking PBA coach Leo Isaac, has assembled a bunch of former free agents, who are out to prove they belong to the ‘big league.' There can't be any bigger motivation that that.

    Admittedly, Isaac said he has been reminding his veterans led by Eddie Laure, Bryan Faundo, Paul Artadi, Sunday Salvacion and Chris Timberlake that they should take advantage of the lengthy playing time they will get with Blackwater after riding on the bench in their previous teams the past seasons.

    Weaknesses: While Laure and Co. are no stranger to PBA pressure, the main crack in the Elite’s armor is their lack of solid supporting cast that could sustain the energy they can dish off when they start resting on the bench.

    Sophomore wingmen Alex Nuyles and JR Cawaling are coming off stints with Rain or Shine and grand slam champion San Mig Super Coffee (now Purefoods), respectively last season, but they still don’t have enough PBA “mileage” to provide a more consistent spark for Blackwater.

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    Even younger forwards Gilbert Bulawan, Bambam Gamalinda and Ogie Menor only had minimal exposure with their past teams last season.

    Nonetheless, Blackwater can build its future on Nuyles and Cawaling, both potential superstars, given their work ethic, ability to shoot from the outside and having played under multi-titled coaches Yeng Guiao of Rain or Shine and Tim Cone of Purefoods, respectively.

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    Forecast: Although Sy and Isaac have set a goal of reaching the playoffs, the Elite could be lucky to win at least three games in the season-opening PBA Philippine Cup.


    Rookies: Manny Pacquiao (playing-coach), Kenneth Ighalo

    Strengths: In KIA’s maiden season, the only strength it has is its big, fighting heart according to Pacquiao and his top assistant coach Glen Capacio.

    Capacio has practically called the shots for KIA’s practice sessions this offseason due to the numerous non-basketball commitments and ongoing training of Pacquiao for the fight against Chris Algieri next month.

    The 50-year-old Capacio, who learned the PBA coaching ropes during his two-year assistant coaching stint with GlobalPort, said the Sorentos’ roster is built not on talent, but on hardwork, noting that the bulk of their players are known for their blue-collar attitude.

    Reil Cervantes, a former Ginebra and Barako Bull reserve forward, has been leading the team in scoring and rebounding in the team’s preseason games.

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    Although KIA has been practicing for the last two months, Capacio already made it known that winning a game or two would be an achievement for the Pacquiao-led franchise. However, at this point, Capacio guarantees they won’t go down without a fight.

    Weaknesses: KIA may not be lacking in heart, but because the expansion team has no solid go-to-guy come crunch time, nor does it have a solid supporting cast, the Sorentos are expected to figure at the bottom of the standings.

    The 6-foot-4 Cervantes has developed a decent touch from the perimeter and is willing to bang bodies inside, but unless he gets his teammates involved every game, opposing team’s defense is expected to collapse on him every time he touches the basketball.

    Forecast: Pacquiao is no doubt, the Sorentos’ biggest attraction, but since the 35-year-old fighting congressman from Saranggani is not known for his basketball skills, KIA’s trek to respectability in the pro league may take a while. And that's an understatement, for sure.

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    2013-14 record: 14-22

    Rookies: Phillip Morrison (R)

    New acquisitions: Simon Atkins, Sean Anthony, Ryan Buenafe, Mark Macapagal

    Strengths: Norman Black’s assumption to the head coaching post is a breathe of fresh air for the Meralco camp. The Bolts’ best-ever finish during their first four years in the pro league under then coach Ryan Gregorio was third in the 2013 Governors Cup.

    Under Black, Meralco immediately made some key player movements, acquiring former Alaska forward Ryan Buenafe and Mark Macapagal from the free agent market, playmaker Simon Atkins and Sean Anthony in a three-team trade involving Blackwater and sister team NLEX (formerly Air21), as well as adding rookie Fil-Am guard Phillip Morrison.

    Although the Bolts’ local roster may not have the star power compared to other teams, Black believes they have a number of energetic players, who could easily serve as spark for his retooled team this season, citing Fil-Am forward Cliff Hodge, Anthony, John Wilson and even Atkins as “energy boosters."

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    “The first thing I noticed about Meralco is, one, they are a very energetic team because of Cliff Hodge, John Wilson, then we picked up Atkins, whose also makulit, and we added Sean Anthony, who is also makulit, players who are very very intense and show a lot of energy on the court,” explained the 56-year-old American coach.

    From these “energy players” will come the defensive hustle that Black’s past teams are always known for.

    Black intends to harness the energies of his players, who, if channeled well on the defensive end, can hopefully, translate into victories.

    Weaknesses: Meralco’s a “doughnut” team at the frontline. It’s a fact Black has learned to accept, but he intends to maximize veteran forwards Reynel Hugnatan, Danny Ildefonso and John Ferriols as well as James Sena at the frontline, while keeping his fingers crossed that no one among these three “bigs” will run into foul trouble when matched up against Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter and San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo.

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    Forecast: Black’s coaching “magic” has produced 11 PBA championships since the mid-80s when he started as playing coach for Magnolia (now San Miguel Beer). He even steered the Beermen to the grand slam title in 1989, becoming just the third coach in league history at that time to do the trick.

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    With Black, Meralco can expect better days ahead, and who knows, a first-ever Finals appearance could come along the way, especially when the Bolts’ new and old faces start meshing together.


    Rookies: Harold Arboleda, Juneric Baloria, Raul Soyud

    New acquisition: Nino Canaleta

    Strengths: Since acquiring the Air21 Express franchise last June, NLEX managed to retain the core of veterans led by last year’s Mythical First team member Asi Taulava, Jonas Villanueva, Macmac Cardona, Wynne Arboleda and Enrico Villanueva.

    Nino Canaleta’s arrival after NLEX figured recently in a three-team trade added another veteran presence to a Road Warriors team that is trying to make an immediate impact in its first PBA season.

    Experience-wise, the NLEX squad has a lot of that this early, owing to the presence of Taulava and Co., who made heads turn last season after taking the former Air21 franchise to a semifinal stint in the Commissioner’s Cup, eventually losing to San Mig Super Coffee (Purefoods) in their five-game series.

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    Villanueva, nicknamed the 'Raging Bull,' has slowly been regaining his confidence since being sidelined by a knee injury the past season.

    A healthy Villanueva could mean trouble for opposing teams because of his ability to defend at the post, while providing the added inside scoring punch in order to ease the burden on Taulava.

    Weaknesses: The recent player movements appeared to have taken the luster from NLEX.

    Trading away promising rookies Matt Ganuelas Rosser and Kevin Alas, this year’s No. 2 pick in separate transactions that saw both freshmen land at NLEX’s sister team Talk ‘N Text, hurt NLEX more than it helped the team.

    Rosser is a lanky wingman who can provide perimeter defense, while Alas is a combo guard, who can slash to the basket and provide the points in bundles from the outside.

    By settling for Canaleta, 34, the Road Warriors gave up youth and athleticism from the swingman position with the departure of Ganuelas.

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    And without Alas, rookie guard Juneric Baloria of Perpetual will now have to rise to the occasion to provide instant offense when his number is called by coach Boyet Fernandez.

    Obviously, rookies Harold Arboleda and Baloria of Perpetual Help are coming off impressive performances in the NCAA, but how they could quickly adapt to the PBA style of play remains to be seen.

    Forecast: Among the three new teams this coming season, NLEX has the decided advantage because of the presence of Taulava and the core of former Air21 players.

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    Although the 6-10 evergreen big man vowed to bring NLEX to a Finals stint in one of the three conferences this season, the Road Warriors, at best, could be a middle-tier team.


    2013-14 record: 10-25

    Rookies: Jake Pascual, Philip Paredes, David Semerad

    New acquisitions: RR Garcia, Chico Lanete, Jondan Salvador

    Strengths: Barako Bull is a nice mix of veterans and young turks which is capable of beating elite squads on a good day.

    Just imagine a starting unit that includes Jondan Salvador, rookie forward Jake Pascual, JC Intal, Dennis Miranda and Jeric Fortuna, along with shock troopers that include sweet-shooting big man Mick Pennisi, Willy Wilson, Dave Marcelo as well as youngsters Carlo Lastimosa, RR Garcia and Nico Salva.

    The Energy, no doubt, have the talent to compete with elite PBA teams like Purefoods (formerly San Mig), San Miguel Beer, Talk ‘N Text and even Ginebra.

    This season, it will be up to newly-appointed Barako Bull coach Koy Banal to harness the talent at his disposal as the Energy try to break from the rut and climb back to respectability in the league.

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    Weaknesses: Barako Bull’s constant player and coaching movement for the last three seasons have made almost impossible for the team to establish any semblance of chemistry.

    Just last season, the George Chua-owned franchise placed ninth and eighth, respectively during the Commissioner’s Cup and Governors Cup.

    The Energy’s coaching transition includes Junel Baculi during the 2012 season, Rajko Toroman followed by Bong Ramos in the 2013 through 2014 season, before seeing Siot Tanquingcen assume the head coaching post in last season’s Governors Cup.

    Then, on Saturday, Tanquingcen was fired by management, thrusting longtime assistant coach Banal into the coaching spotlight, in a sudden coaching twist.

    With another transition to start the brand new season, players are expected to make another round of adjustments, given Banal’s own preferred system on offense and defense.

    Forecast: Everyone must be puzzled at this point on Barako Bull management’s decision to part ways with Tanquingcen at the eleventh hour. Tanquingcen is a three-time PBA champion coach and is known for his strong work ethic.

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    With Barako Bull starting the new season with a new captain of the ship, the Energy are expected to encounter rough sailing once more.

    And unless management makes a decision to give Banal full control of the team, Barako Bull might not be able to live up to its potential.


    2013-14 record: 7-26

    Rookies: Stanley Pringle, Roider Cabrera, Anthony Semerad, John Pinto, Prince Caperal

    New acquisitions: Mark Isip, Jojo Duncil, Nonoy Baclao

    Strengths: GlobalPort compiled an impressive 7-3 win-loss record in its preseason games so far.

    Confidence is sky-high for this three-year-old franchise, which only won two games in the last two conferences under Pido Jarencio, before limping to a woeful 7-26 ledger overall this past season.

    Batang Pier team owner Mikee Romero showed his dismay over his team’s pathetic performance last season by making some audacious offseason moves en route to bolstering its roster this season with five new rookies led by top overall pick Stanley Pringle.

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    Pringle, a 6-1 guard out of Penn State, so far, has been adjusting well after 10 preseason games.

    The 27-year-old Fil-American guard easily adds speed, backcourt scoring and sleek passing skills he was able to hone after playing in Poland, Belgium and Ukraine, before making a name by leading the Indonesia Warriors to the 2012 Asean Basketball League championships.

    Pringle is expected to play beautiful music with sophomore guard Terrence Romeo and veteran playmaker Alex Cabagnot, while incoming freshmen Prince Caperal, Anthony Semerad and John Pinto, a noted scorer for the Arellano Chiefs in the NCAA, can easily provide the added offensive.

    Offseason veteran acquisitions Mark Isip, Noy Baclao and Jojo Duncil easily add the steady presence.

    Weaknesses: With eight new faces to begin the season, GlobalPort coach Pido Jarencio’s biggest challenge is chemistry.

    Jarencio admitted it’s not easy meshing eight new players, along with the rest of the team in such a short period of time.

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    GlobalPort managed to go 3-1 in its Korean trip last month, beating several two top collegiate squads in Seoul, and a pro team from the Korean Basketball League.

    But everybody knows that preseason matches are completely different from PBA competition during the regular season.

    Forecast: GlobalPort’s improved roster easily makes the team a shoo-in for the quarterfinals, where the top eight teams at the end of the single-round eliminations qualify.

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    Barging into the top eight means veering away from back-to-back last-place finishes last season, while giving the Batang Pier a shot at the semifinals.


    2013-14 record: 22-22

    Rookies: Chris Banchero and Rome dela Rosa

    New acquisition: Eric Menk

    Strengths: The core of the Alaska squad remains intact entering the 2014-15 season, making the Aces a solid title contender again.

    The Aces bolstered their already veteran-laden roster with rookies Chris Banchero, the fifth overall pick this year, along with former San Beda forward Rome dela Rosa, who could easily provide the defensive hustle off the bench.

    Compton, a noted student of the game, brought in former Australian national coach Rob Beveridge early last month to improve on the team’s defensive schemes, among others.

    With Beveridge providing valuable inputs, Compton said they began to make key adjustments on defense, hoping that Alaska can be an even more potent defensive team this season.

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    Of course, Alaska showed tremendous character during the season-ending Governors Cup last June, taking powerhouse Rain or Shine to the distance in their five-game semifinal series before folding. And this, despite the fact that Compton came in three games into the conference, while the Aces suffered injuries to JV Casio, Sonny Thoss and Gab Espinas during the semifinals.

    Weaknesses: Alaska’s championship-tested core of Cyrus Baguio, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros and Tony dela Cruz are 33 years old and up. That means, younger teams like GlobalPort, San Miguel Beer, Purefoods, Rain or Shine and even Meralco, are expected to push the tempo whenever they are given a chance against the Aces.

    Since Espinas is still out of commission, more likely till late November or early December while still recovering from a broken foot, Alaska signed veteran Eric Menk to add some size at the post.

    The 6-5 Menk, however, turned 40 last August.

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    Now a step slower, Alaska will have to rely heavily on its younger forwards like 2013 Rookie of the Year Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel, while guards JV RJ Jazul and rookie Chris Banchero are expected to figure prominently on offense.

    Forecast: No matter what people may say, Alaska is still a force to be reckoned with this season.

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    Compton inherited a team that is noted for its commitment to play hard-nosed defense and patience in executing its offense.

    Once the Aces figure in the semifinals, expect the team's rich playoff experience to come into play. Then anything can happen.


    2013-14 record: 33-16

    Rookies: Matt Ganuelas Rosser, Kevin Alas

    New acquisitions: Jay Washington, Larry Rodriguez

    Strengths: Jong Uichico is now at the helm for Talk ‘N Text after serving as erstwhile head coach Norman Black’s assistant for one season.

    He has won eight PBA titles, all with the San Miguel Corp. teams – six with San Miguel Beer and two with Ginebra, the last being in the 2008 Fiesta Conference, which incidentally, was the Gin Kings’ last PBA title.

    At Uichico’s disposal is a team of championship-tested veterans, who remain hungry for a championship.

    Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Larry Fonacier and Ryan Reyes have all proven winners, having been part of four PBA champion teams over three seasons (2011 to 2013).

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    The Texters’ formidable brew only grew stronger after boosting their stock with the return of veteran forward Jay Washington and the arrival of rookies Matt Ganuelas Rosser and Kevin Alas.

    The 6-foot-7 Washington is coming off an MVP-like performance while playing for GlobalPort last season, averaging 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists.

    Rosser and Alas are vital cogs for NLEX, which dominated the PBA D-League after winning its sixth title in the last seven conferences last June.

    Weaknesses: Talk ‘N Text’s recent trade moves signaled the start of the proud franchise’s initial rebuilding phase.

    After three straight Philippine Cup championships from 2011-2013, last season’s title-less campaign revealed the need for the Tropang Texters to infuse young blood into a roster that relied a lot on Castro and Alapag in recent years.

    However, Talk ‘N Text’s biggest concern this season is not having a big man who could match up with bigger teams like Ginebra, Purefoods and San Miguel.

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    Since Ali Peek’s retirement last season, Talk ‘N Text has yet to tap a solid big man, who could man the slot for the Manny V. Pangilinan-owned ball club.

    Instead, the Texters are heavy with forwards, who have acted as “centers-in-commission” this past season.

    Kelly Williams, Harvey Carey, who at 6-2 plays the power forward spot, along with newly-acquired Larry Rodriguez, will have their hands full patrolling the paint, while guarding bigger and younger players like June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel and Ginebra’s 6-foot-11 center Greg Slaughter.

    Forecast: Despite the coaching change, Alapag and Co. are experienced enough to adjust well under Uichico. Expect the Texters to remain among the three major contenders for the crown every conference this season.

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    2013-14 record: 23-20

    Rookie: Rodney Brondial

    New acquisition: Joseph Yeo

    Strengths: Barangay Ginebra has beefed up its position in all spots. Greg Slaughter mans the slot. Japeth Aguilar adds the additional help defense, not to mention the highlight reel, when he gets the opening for a dunk.

    Mac Baracael is a reliable three-point threat, while newly-acquired guard Joseph Yeo could start for the Gin Kings, providing more scoring threat and keeping Mark Caguioa fresh come clutch time.

    Meantime, LA Tenorio can score anytime by penetrating to the basket, act as facilitator by finding the open man, or simply score from the outside when left wide-open.

    In reality, the Gin Kings are stacked up from frontline to the backcourt.

    No wonder Ginebra fans to expect a lot from the talent-laden Gin Kings, especially now that rookie coach Jeff Cariaso is heading to his second conference with the team.

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    Ginebra had a less-than-stellar preseason performance, losing games to Barako Bull and Davao’s Goldstar team in a pocket tournament in Visayas, bowing to the visiting Changwon LG Sakers last August, and dropping another preseason match against an undersized Meralco side.

    Still, Cariaso isn’t pressing the panic button.

    He knows that in due time, once Ginebra adjusts well to the triangle offense, as well as be committed to play 48 minutes of solid defense, a championship is just around the corner.

    Weaknesses: Since everybody in Ginebra can score, the challenge for Cariaso is how to transform his team into one, tough defensive unit.

    Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar are no doubt, the team’s defensive anchors. But for Ginebra to make it deep into the playoffs this season, it will take more than just these two big men to grab those rebounds and get blocks.

    For Cariaso, the goal is for every Ginebra player to make stops, because doing so could eventually translate into fastbreak points.

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    “The number one thing for us this preseason is our defense. We play defense and we could always do anything on offense,” he added.

    Forecast: Ginebra is up there among the title contenders, but for the Gin Kings to put an end to their six-year title drought, they will have to play consistently on the defensive end.

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    Cariaso has played under Purefoods coach Tim Cone, when the American mentor handled Alaska during the 1990s. The 42-year-old Cariaso has also served as one of Cone’s top deputies at San Mig the past two and a half seasons.

    Having seen how Cone prepares his game plan every day, it is obvious that Cariaso wants to see Gin Kings have the same defensive mindset that Purefoods players had for the last three seasons.


    2013-14 record: 37-24

    Rookies: Jericho Cruz

    New acquisitions: none

    Strengths: The Paul Lee trade is history after the former Rookie of the Year made good his promise to stay with Rain or Shine, just shortly after coming from Seville, Spain for the Fiba World Cup.

    Lee is a vital piece in coach Yeng Guiao’s rotation due to his ability to slash to the basket, hit the big shots when needed, as well as posing matchup problems at the backcourt due to his size and quickness.

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    What’s more, Guiao is not the type of coach who would shake his roster after the end of every season.

    The fiery Rain or Shine mentor said the team managed to earn two runner-up finishes last season (Philippine Cup and Governors Cup), not bad for a team that doesn’t have a legitimate post threat after relying mostly on gang-rebounding and scrappy defense.

    As always, the Elasto Painters are expected to rely on their running game, something they have done very well last season due to their forced turnovers.

    The Elasto Painters took in rookie Jericho Cruz, though the former Adamson gunner will simply be taking the spot vacated by Alex Nuyles, whom the team lost to the dispersal draft.

    Weaknesses: Guiao has accepted the fact that the center spot remains the team’s glaring weakness. With that size gap, it is a fact that Rain or Shine can be beaten off the boards by bigger teams at any given day.

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    In the team’s Finals collision with San Mig during the Philippine Cup and Governors Cup, Rain or Shine didn’t have the size to match up against the 6-foot-7 Joe Devance.

    Since the team failed to boost its stock during the offseason at the three-spot, the Elasto Painters will be at a disadvantage once more when ranged against big teams.

    Forecast: With a solid, young core back for another title run, Rain or Shine will be among the top five teams to beat this season. Guiao knows they are coming in with one of the shortest lineups in the tournament, but what they lack in size, they will compensate with their big, fighting heart.

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    2013-14 record: 25-17

    Rookie: Ronald Pascual

    New acquisitions: Nelbert Omolon

    Strengths: With the brand-new season comes brand-new hope for San Miguel Beer, which is starting the 40th season with a new coach in Leo Austria.

    Austria was at the helm when the Beermen ruled last year’s Asean Basketball League championship, dethroning Indonesia Warriors via a 3-0 Finals sweep.

    Though the ABL is a completely different league from the PBA, San Miguel hopes that Austria’s winning attitude could rub off on the Beermen, whose last PBA championship happened in the 2011 Governors Cup.

    Every time you look at San Miguel, one has to begin with reigning league MVP June Mar Fajardo.

    His size, his strength, plus the wealth of international experience gained while playing for Gilas Pilipinas the past two months, will all be beneficial for the Beermen, who are out to finally live up to expectations this season.

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    Complementing the 6-10 Fajardo are San Miguel’s armada of outside gunners like Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Chris Ross, Ronald Tubid and even rookie Ronald Pascual, who emerged as the third overall pick this year.

    Weaknesses: San Miguel has one of the strongest rosters on paper, but a quick look at the team’s history over the past three seasons would show a revolving door as far as players and coaches are concerned.

    Since the 2013 season, only five players have managed to stay within the flagship team of San Miguel Corp., namely Santos, Lassiter, Lutz, Fajardo and Paolo Hubalde.

    Also, over the last two seasons, the team has seen coaches come and go, namely Serbian Rajko Toroman, Olsen Racela, Gee Abanilla and last season’s active consultant Todd Purves before Austria was appointed as the Beermen’s new coach a few months ago.

    With each coaching change, comes a new system and new coaching style.

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    Stability, or the lack of it, is the Beermen's main problem.

    Forecast: San Miguel remains at the top five teams to beat this season. But for the Beermen to fully realize their potential and end the season with a championship, it is imperative for the players to completely buy into Austria’s system.

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    2013-14 record: 41-30

    Rookies: none

    New acquisitions: none

    Strengths: As the team reverts to its old, proud brand name Purefoods, the Star Hotshots are aiming to continue their championship run this season.

    After becoming just the fourth team in the PBA’s first 39 years to win a grand slam, Purefoods have no plans of slowing down.

    The Hotshots are actually looking to continue their history-making ways by aiming for a fifth straight league title, beginning in the Philippine Cup.

    The team, under all-time PBA winning coach Tim Cone, is bringing almost everybody back this season.

    Two-time league MVP James Yap remains the heart and soul of the team, though the veteran core of Marc Pingris, Peter June Simon, Joe Devance and Mark Barroca are also back to help the Hotshots continue their title run.

    Although Purefoods went 0-6 and one draw in seven preseason games, Cone said they are still getting their conditioning at this point, considering that they were the last PBA team to return to practice last September 10.

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    But Cone hardly looked alarmed over the slow start, aware that his players know when to up the level of their play.

    Weaknesses: Purefoods survived major injuries during the course of its grand slam campaign last season. But the team played a total of 71 games last season.

    With that much games played under the compact calendar of the 2014 season, Cone feels one of the biggest challenges he’ll be facing as a coach is how to keep the players hungry for more.

    Cone recalled that when he piloted Alaska to the 1996 grand slam title, the following season proved to be a challenge as the Milkmen spiraled to seventh place during the opening conference.

    “So it’s hard to get the emotions back to where they were. But that’s our challenge as a coaching staff and as players, to focus on getting better day to day,” said Cone, who has thus far, won five PBA title with the Purefoods franchise, adding to the 13 championships he previously won with Alaska.

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    How to keep everyone healthy will be another issue since Yap, Pingris, Barroca and Simon played an average of 129 games over the course of 21 months, making them vulnerable to injuries, considering the constant banging they get every game.

    Youngsters Ian Sangalang, Justin Melton, Alex Mallari, Allein Maliksi and even Yousef Taha will have to deliver when called upon to spell the four veteran stars this season.

    Forecast: Purefoods is still a force to be reckoned with this season. Cone has built a young team around his resident stars, and should Yap and Co. sputter in some games this season, Sangalang or Melton can provide the occasional fireworks, given the experience they gained last season.

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    Manny Pacquiao, James Yap and Paul Lee will be gaining a lot of attention, both the right and wrong reasons, when the PBA's 40th season unfolds. Jerome Ascano
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