The core of LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Greg Slaughter and the electric Scottie Thompson has helped Barangay Ginebra succeed the past few years, winning two Governors' Cup titles in a row.
But after reigning supreme in the Governors' Cup, it's natural that the Kings would want more. So entering the 2017-18 season, Ginebra was tabbed as a contender because of their starry lineup and the man calling the shots, Tim Cone. With a proven system and a squad full of proven champions, Ginebra looked to take on all comers in their defense of the crown, as well as the search for brand new conferences to conquer.
Lost in all the success that Ginebra attained was their ability to overcome all sorts of injuries to key players, particularly Greg Slaughter. The 7-foot center has been in and out of the lineup the past few years. But whether or not Gregzilla has been there, Ginebra has been competitive.
Ginebra made the playoffs in the Philippine Cup but ran into a brick wall in the semifinals, matching up against the three-time champions San Miguel Beermen. With Slaughter out of the series because of an ankle injury, Ginebra was forced to make do with Japeth Aguilar in the middle, and reserves like Prince Caperal and Raymond Aguilar filling in when necessary. It wasn't enough, and Ginebra had to give way to the eventual champions of the conference.
Ginebra would have to wait for their chance at revenge, and it came in the Commissioner's Cup. They started their conference slow, going with Charles Garcia as their import to man the pivot slot with Slaughter still unavailable.
Without Slaughter in the middle, the team struggled on the offensive end, prompting Ginebra to pull the trigger on a trade to acquire Jeff Chan from Phoenix in exchange for Ginebra's first round pick in the upcoming draft.
But soon enough, a familiar face came to help. When Justin Brownlee was done with the ABL, Ginebra decided to go with the import that led them to two titles. And though Brownlee was the shortest import, his comfort with the team helped Ginebra climb out of an early conference hole and eventually head back into the finals.
Ginebra had an ace up their sleeve in the rematch against San Miguel, as Slaughter returned in time to match up against Fajardo. And he did an excellent job of slowing down Fajardo, enough for Ginebra's defense to frustrate the shooters of San Miguel. And with Scottie Thompson becoming a star in front of everyone's eyes, Ginebra won their first Commissioner's Cup title in the Tim Cone era.
The final conference of the season was a special one for Barangay Ginebra, as they looked to defend their title and possibly take their second title of the season. However the injury bug continued to plague Tim Cone's squad, as almost every key player aside from LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson missed time to injuries. Despite those obstacles, they still finished as the top seed with a 9-2 slate behind the brilliant play of Brownlee all conference long.
After taking care of NLEX in the opening round of the playoffs, they cruised to the semifinals where the Magnolia Hotshots were awaiting them. And despite Ginebra's best efforts, the wear and tear, and fatigue over three grueling conferences caught up with them. They were eliminated by the Hotshots in four tough games, thus ending their two-year reign in the Governors' Cup.
But despite the loss, it was an excellent season for Ginebra. They made the semifinals in all three conferences, and will enter next season as defending champions in the Commissioner's Cup. With more time for the team's veterans to heal up heading into the start of a new season, look for Ginebra to remain a contender for many conferences to come.
What they need
With no first round pick in the upcoming draft, Barangay Ginebra will be hard-pressed to find a game-changing talent in the second round. So that means majority of the improvements for Ginebra will have to come from within.
Key for Ginebra next season will be what they can get from Arthur Dela Cruz. Acquired in a trade two years ago, Dela Cruz finally saw minimal action in the Governors' Cup, making his long awaited debut. The team relies heavily on veteran Joe Devance, but in different parts of the season, he was forced to miss time due to different injuries. Dela Cruz can fit the mold of JDV as a facilitator and playmaker in the small forward position.
Another important piece will be if Scottie Thompson can improve further in his fourth year in the league. Though Thompson continues to provide electric energy and ignites the crowd with every rebound in the land of giants, there's still room for him to grow. Having mentors like LA Tenorio and Sol Mercado has definitely helped accelerate his progress, and it's going to be exciting to see the heights he will be able to reach in the PBA.