GINEBRA coach Tim Cone believes his team stands as the biggest threat to San Miguel Beer’s title-retention bid in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup as well as the latter's ambitious quest for a season grand slam.
The Beermen, oozing with confidence after completing a historic Philippine Cup four-peat, are set to get even better as celebrated top rookie pick Christian Standhardinger as well as import Troy Gillenwater join June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, and Chris Ross.
If there is one team that can stand toe to toe with the Beermen, Cone feels it's Gin Kings, especially once Greg Slaughter returns from injury to relink with Japeth Aguilar, the Gin Kings’ twin towers, and Justin Brownlee returns from Alab Pilipinas duty.
“They’re (SMB) going to figure things out when Standhardinger comes just like when Justin comes,” Cone said after their tune-up game against TNT KaTropa on Saturday. “They’re obviously going to be the favorite as they have been for the last two, three years.”
“But when we get Greg back, we feel we can match up (with SMB),” the league’s most successful coach was quick to add as he pointed out that the Gin Kings haven’t beaten the Beermen in a playoff series where Slaughter hasn’t played.
With Slaughter back in harness in the last Governors’ Cup quarterfinals, the twice-to-beat Gin Kings dispatched the Beermen in just one game to end their sister team's bid for a grand slam last season.
“Hopefully, one of these days we have Greg available, so we haven’t had a real reckoning with them yet, because we haven’t had Greg in any series against them,” Cone said. “Obviously he’ll make an impact.”
“But now they have Standhardinger, and whatever import they choose, I think they’ll probably look a little bit like us in terms of having two bigs and a smaller import who’s quicker and a mismatch for other teams, and such,” he added.
Asked if his team can indeed be SMB’s biggest matchup problem, Cone is hopeful, but conceded to SMB’s cohesion as a unit, more than anything else, makes it tough to beat.
“I’d like to think so, but it’s one thing to match up, it’s one thing to play together, and they play so well together – that’s the key,” Cone said. “Yeah, they’re great, but they’re great together.”
“You can put like an all-star team, put the best five players in the PBA, and put them on one team, and go out and play San Miguel; they probably still won’t win – only because it’s not only about having the best players, but having players who play well together,” he added.
“And those guys just know each other back and forth, up and down, they read each other so well, they’ve been around together for so long.”
“Maybe the only good news (for us) is they’re going to have to adjust to Standhardinger, so maybe they’ll be vulnerable during that time. We’ll see. Probably not,” Cone concluded.