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.
Philippine Cup: 6-5 (5th) -- lost to Ginebra in the quarterfinals
Commissioner's Cup: 9-2 (1st) -- lost to Ginebra in the semifinals
Governors' Cup: 3-8 (10th) -- missed the playoffs
Javee Mocon, JJay Alejandro, Jireh Ibañes (back from injury), Kris Rosales
Chris Tiu, Jay Washington, JK Casiño
Rest of the Roster
James Yap, Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan, Maverick Ahanmisi, Ed Daquioag, Jewel Ponferada, Rey Nambatac, Norbert Torres, Mark Borboran, Sidney Onwubere, Dexter Maiquez (reserve/injured list)
Biggest thing to look out for
Rain or Shine had a roller-coaster season last year. From finishing in the middle of the pack in the opening conference, the team dominated the elimination round of the Commissioner's Cup and made it back to the semifinals for the first time since Yeng Guiao was still at the helm. The Elasto Painters failed to carry over the momentum from that breakthrough, however, as they missed the playoffs altogether in the season-ending conference.
While other teams were busy wheeling and dealing in the offseason, Rain or Shine did not make any significant personnel movement.
The biggest changes were the retirement of Chris Tiu, who had a sensational farewell performance in the Governors' Cup, and the return of Raymond Almazan, who was suspended by the franchise for going AWOL in multiple games and practices. The team also signed rookies Javee Mocon and JJay Alejandro, who were both picked in the first round of the 2018 PBA draft.
How the Elasto Painters will address the loss of a leader and veteran playmaker in Tiu, move forward from the issues surrounding Almazan's prolonged absence, and quickly integrate their newcomers into coach Caloy Garcia's system will spell the difference for them this year.
Rain or Shine has always prided itself for its deep roster and top-notch chemistry.
While the departure of Guiao and Paul Lee three years ago - later on followed by JR Quiñahan, Jeff Chan, Jericho Cruz, and Tiu - posed a huge challenge for a team that relies heavily on familiarity, the Elasto Painters' bench depth continues to be their key weapon.
Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, and James Yap will continue to provide stability and share the responsibility of mentoring and guiding the younger members of the team. Almazan, after last conference's fiasco, mentioned that he's eager to make up for lost time and his steady inside presence will be integral to the team's campaign.
Rain or Shine's promising rookies will also play important roles. Mocon, a San Beda standout who has three straight NCAA championships and a Finals MVP under his belt, is expected to immediately make an impact as a wingman. Alejandro, on the other hand, is a versatile guard who can also deliver but might need to fight for his minutes in a loaded guard rotation.
Aside from adding newly-drafted players in the lineup, the Elasto Painters inserted Jireh Ibañes, who skipped last season due to injuries, and Kris Rosales, who was part of the trade that sent Cruz to TNT early last year. Ibañes will resume his role as one of the team's most reliable defenders, while Rosales will be a welcome addition to the team's backcourt together with Maverick Ahanmisi, Ed Daquioag, and Rey Nambatac.
Getting an early boot last conference was more of a glitch in an otherwise tried-and-tested system of Rain or Shine. It might be difficult to barge into the finals given the stiff competition, but the franchise will remain a consistent force that can go deep into the playoffs every time.