TNT ended their PBA Season 43 campaign with a stinging loss to top seed Barangay Ginebra at the close of the 2018 Governors' Cup elimination round. Not even the presence of two-time PBA champion and former Best Import Marqus Bakely could salvage the KaTropa's playoff hopes.
The KaTropa's season has been a roller-coaster ride to begin with.
Although TNT made it to the playoffs in each of the first two conferences when the team was still under coach Nash Racela, the KaTropa faced powerhouse San Miguel both times. With June Mar Fajardo leading the charge, SMB dominated TNT in their Philippine and Commissioner's Cups playoff duels. Then in the Governors' Cup, the KaTropa's woes continued and couldn't find any kind of rhythm.
It was a tumultuous season for TNT which failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 Governors' Cup.
Expectations were high for TNT at the start of the 2017-18 season. Although they didn't win a championship at all the previous year, the KaTropa at least had a runner-up finish to boot in the Commissioner's Cup. The proud TNT franchise also made the Final Four in the Philippine and Governors' Cups.
With its 22-11 win-loss record overall, things look bright and sunny for TNT heading to the 2018 season as the team tries to build on what it achieved the year before.
Interestingly, the KaTropa struggled in the 2018 All-Filipino conference, posting a mediocre 5-6 record, just enough to grab the eighth and last spot in the playoffs which arranged an unenviable playoff collision with defending champion San Miguel.
Failing to beef up its frontcourt during the offseason, the team relied on Kelly Williams, Mo Tautuaa and role players Norbert Torres and Papot Paredes which just wasn't enough against Fajardo.
A silver lining for TNT was the acquisition of Jericho Cruz following a trade with Rain or Shine in February. With his quickness and outside shooting, Cruz brought added firepower. Then before the start of the Commissioner's Cup, TNT reloaded its backcourt by shipping Tautuaa and its future picks to GlobalPort (now NorthPort) in exchange for Terrence Romeo, whose scoring prowess is unquestionable having won the PBA Scoring title the last three years.
With Romeo, TNT managed an 8-3 card to secure the third seed in the playoffs of the mid-season conference. TNT also brought back hulking import Josh Smith in its bid to plug the gaping hole on its front court. But again, San Miguel found a way to win during their second straight duel in the quarterfinals.
The Governors' Cup is where things went south for TNT.
The KaTropa got off to a bad start and had import problems. Mike Glover lasted just one game in his return PBA stint, while Stacy Davis failed to impress and suited up for just three games, before he was replaced by Blakely.
A string of embarrassing defeats also prompted management to shake things up, replacing Racela with long-time assistant Bong Ravena, who was promoted to the head coaching post. TNT also brought in former New Zealand NBL star and ex-Canterbury Rams coach Mark Dickel as the team consultant.
They managed to win a couple of games after the coaching change but the KaTropa closed out the Governors' Cup with three straight defeats.
What they need
The PBA Rookie Draft is a month from now, but this early, Ravena will have to start thinking of ways to address the team's frontcourt hole.
Williams and Harvey Carey are the senior members of TNT's aging frontcourt rotation. Both were instrumental in TNT's past championship runs but the last four PBA seasons have been practically owned by San Miguel and Ginebra -- two teams that have the tallest players in the league in Fajardo, Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
While PBA teams normally look at the PBA Draft as a chance to bolster its roster, this year's crop of incoming talent -- littered with guards and forwards led by Bobby Ray Parks Jr., Robert Bolick and CJ Perez -- may not necessarily address TNT's need in the paint.
The PBA's 2019 season won't open till January, but Ravena and his coaching staff will have to take a long and hard look at their assets, and probably should consider trading for a legit big man who can, hopefully, provide the inside presence they desperately lack.