ESPN5.com previews the 12 PBA teams ahead of their first games in the 2019 Philippine Cup, the kickoff conference of the new PBA season.
Lost 0-1 in the quarterfinals against SMB
Lost 0-2 in the quarterfinals against SMB
Did not qualify for playoffs
Brian Heruela, David Semerad, and Mike Miranda
Terrence Romeo, Levi Hernandez, Jessie Saitanan, and Alfrancis Tamsi
Rest of Roster
Harvey Carey, Frank Golla, Ryan Reyes, Anthony Semerad, Roger Pogoy, Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario, Don Trollano, Kelly Williams, Jericho Cruz, Yousef Taha, and RR Garcia (injured list)
Biggest thing to look out for
Can TNT's old finally mix with the new, and will this equate to a championship?
This squad tore down its championship core to get younger. They lost high-character players such as Jimmy Alapag and Ali Peek to retirement and traded away Larry Fonacier and Ranidel Do Ocampo for younger legs but so far they still cannot find the right mix to get their old groove back. This is always the conundrum for teams getting older. Do you trust your veterans enough for one more run or do you trade them away while they still have great value on the market?
TNT did a bit of both. They could not completely trade away all of their aging players to as they wanted them to teach the young blood a thing or two about their team's philosophy. There were some games last year when TNT ran out of ideas so they just put an all veteran five on the floor and they actually played admirably in some of those games. However, this is not sustainable at this stage of their careers.
The problem was that a bunch of their moves did not turn out well for them. Moala Tautuaa did not turn out to be the game-changing big that they wanted to match up against the other giants in the league. It took him a while to develop so they ended up shipping him to NorthPort where he has slowly come into his own. And after their reign as 2015 Commissioner's Cup champions, they've also struggled in getting the right imports. All except Joshua Smith fell below expectations, which just put more pressure on the locals to perform. It was the kind of pressure that a team that's still getting to know itself found hard to recover from.
Now with a handful of new and younger talent joining them, the question remains to be if they can jive well with the veterans and if the coaching staff can mold this team into one cohesive unit.
It was one of the worst campaigns TNT had in the past few seasons of the PBA. Even if they've fallen far from their championship form, the KaTropa still posed a decent threat in previous seasons. This did not happen last season as they only managed to qualify for the quarterfinals twice while being booted out early in the Governors' Cup elimination round.
With all the changes that the team went through, it was really tough to build a cohesive unit. But now that they'll have a full, albeit short, off-season with head coach Bong Ravena aided by team consultant Mark Dickel, it's a good opportunity to develop their philosophy and learn how to maximize all of their players.
The departure of Romeo will leave a gaping hole in their scoring as the guard can drop 20 points game in and game out, but offense never was a big problem for TNT anyway as they have other options who can fill the void. Jayson Castro will be back to his old role of being the focal point of TNT offense and his primary back-up will be RR Pogoy.
What still hurts TNT is their lack of ceiling. Kelly Williams played a lot at the center spot in the last Philippine Cup and although he is in tremendous shape for his age, he cannot consistently contend with giants such as June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter without going into foul trouble. The addition of Mike Miranda is important to them as the young big has proven he can step up when called upon. He is a tough defender and can also score with jumpers, although it is not yet sure if he'll be allowed to take the same shots under coach Yeng Guiao's more lenient strategy with his big men.
TNT will have to make do without Troy Rosario to start their campaign as the talented forward won't be seeing action for a month because of a broken nose he suffered in a practice game against the Road Warriors.
Veterans Harvey Carey and Ryan Reyes can still play steady minutes for TNT but their younger players will have to step up and do more for their squad. Twins Anthony and David Semerad have won championships before and they need to bring in that same kind of winning mentality and energy into the KaTropa.
A very interesting addition to the squad is Brian Heruela, a guard who was able to show flashes of brilliance playing for the San Miguel Beermen. However, he never really got the consistent opportunities he needed to truly shine. Heruela will be the primary back-up of Castro and they may even end up playing together to deal with the other teams who load up on their guards such as Magnolia.
There are still a lot of trade rumors surrounding TNT so this may not be the lineup that will finish the Philippine Cup, but this is the unit they'll be starting with. However, if they suffer a string of defeats early, they might just go ahead with big changes as the team is under a lot of pressure not just to play better but to win. They will be a serious semifinal threat in the Philippine Cup as long as they stay away from the likes of Ginebra and San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals, and they will have to work harder in looking for better fits as imports to have better outings in the second and third conferences.