AFTER the initial shock over Tim Cone's transfer from Star to Barangay Ginebra, the question now is on what the future holds for the league's most popular ballclub under the league's most successful coach.
Or, more specifically, what can the remnants of a team that has not won a championship in eight seasons, more so its promising big men and seniors stars Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand, expect in Cone's watch.
To get a better perspective, we asked Jojo Lastimosa and Kenneth Duremdes, two superstars who played their best years under Cone during the dynastic reign of Alaska in the nineties.
Lastimosa, the starting two-guard in the Alaska team that bagged a grand slam in 1996, stressed that Cone is a very strict coach who puts a premium not on the status of a player but on his contribution to his system.
“The reason why he is the best is because alam niya ang gusto niya," said Lastimosa. "Hindi niya ipagpipilit na kesyo matagal nang naglaro ang player sa kanya eh gagamitin nya pa. Hindi na nakakatulong sa system niya, gagamitin pa - he’s not gonna do that.
“He is the best in doing and judging 'yung talent na whether he’s been playing for him for a long time or not, kung sa tingin niya na hindi na nakakatulong sa team niya more than sa players na mas bata, then pupunta siya run sa mas nakakatulong.
“It’s all about what helps him best - let’s put it that way,” Lastimosa added.
On the other hand, there is no doubt in Duremdes' mind that big men Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar will now be the centers of attention at Ginebra once Cone begins to put in place his triangle offense - an offensive system which, ironically, his former assistant Jeff Cariaso tried to instill in the team with little success last year.
The move to the triangle offense, Duremdes believed, would also have the focal point of the offense shifting from guards like Caguioa and Helterbrand to the two big men in the middle.
“Hindi na (iikot sa dalawa ang opensa ng Ginebra), tapos na siguro 'yun," said Duremdes, who became a league MVP under Cone's watch. "Kasi under coach Tim I believe kila Slaughter at Japeth na 'yan. Ang triangle kasi (ang) key diyan sentro eh. Si Silaughter 'yun.
“Tignan mo mas lalong gagaling yung Japeth at 'yung Slaughter,” Duremdes added.
So where will Caguioa and Helterbrand fall in the new scheme of things?
“May pattern kasi si Tim na makikita mo na nag-ta-transition yan ng players, hindi siya yung aabutan ka pa ng pag-edad ng player mo,” said Duremdes. “Gagawin niya, ite-trade niya player para sa mas bata, which is kahit sa ibang bansa naman ganun talaga ang basketball eh.
"Kailangan unahin mo pagtanda ng tuhod ng player mo. Hangga’t may value, ipalit mo na sa mas bata,” he added.
That was the case at Alaska, Duremdes pointed out.
“Nung araw may Jolas (Lastimosa) siya, tapos na-trade, pumasok kami ni Rodney (Santos). Tapos nung nakakita siya ng window dun kay (Brandon) Cablay, tine-trade niya kami. Tapos nung nakakuha siya ng opportunity kay Willie (Miller), kinuha niya. Tapos si (Cyrus) Baguio,” he said.
Lastimosa warned that Cone is a very straightforward coach who will not hesitate to trade away or bench players who would go against the system.
“If the players will insist or be against him, he’ll trade them kung may value pa sila. Pag hindi naman, hindi ka niya gagamitin. It means, he’s going in a different direction, ‘you have to tell yourself, ‘It’s time for you to go or look for some other team to play for,' Ganun lang 'yun,” said Lastimosa.
However, the nine-time PBA All-Star stressed that Cone values the opinion of his players.
“Tim will definitely impose his will (especially on erring players). Pero si Tim has a way of getting the players to buy into his system. He is very democratic where he values your opinion, but at the end of the day, sa kanya pa rin 'yung decision. Pero he will value your opinion,” he said.
What if a player demands more playing time?
“You can’t do that. No one will do that. You can’t demand playing time from Tim. You have to earn it. You will have to prove to him. Ang mangyayari dyan, hindi ka niya gagamitin,” he said.
Asked about Ginebra’s longtime tandem of Caguioa and Helterbrand, Lastimosa said perimeter players are also integral to the triangle - the same role he played at Alaska during his career.
Lastimosa said he hopes the two longtime players will embrace Cone's system, although Caguioa had not been too happy about the shift to the triangle offense during Cariaso's time.
[See Caguioa: 'This team is built to run ... This team is a run and gun, parang sa barangay']
“Mark is a perimeter player and Jayjay also, makakatuLong sila in the sense that the system is depende sa 18 and 20 feet yung shooting na kailangan niya (Cone), so those guys can definitely help, kahit sabihin natin na ilalagay na sila sa mga beterano na players,” he said.
Can the two still be the stars of the team? The PBA legend said: “Hindi namimili ng status 'yan. If you can play, you will play.”
Duremdes doesn't expect changes to come anytime soon, saying Cone will take his time and assess what he has in the team before making any move.
“Titignan niya muna 'yan. Hindi basta-basta na pagdating niya eh agad-agad niyang gagalawin. Kasi kahit papano mga beterano 'yan. Pero hindi na kakain ng maraming oras 'yan. Tatanggap na lang ng role yan. Hindi na main,” said 'Captain Marbel.'
“Unti-unti' yan tapos pag may nakita siyang mag step up sa position nung dalawa, unti-unti na 'yan (changing of the guards). Ita-try niya pa ring mag work 'yan. I-mo-motivate niya yang dalawang yan,” he said.
Listen to interviews with Lastimosa and Duremdes: