Since joining the PBA in 2014, the Blackwater Elite, at the start of each season, have always set their sights on winning a PBA crown. But the journey to capturing a first-ever franchise PBA championship has been elusive.
Team management has always made it a point to shake up its roster before the start of each season in the hope of finding the right formula. In the offseason, Blackwater traded away vital cogs in John Paul Erram, Nard Pinto and Paul Zamar. Blackwater began the 2019 season with Bong Ramos still at the helm, but the team struggled in the All-Filipino conference again.
That left Ramos with no choice but to make use of a watered-down roster that included rookies Paul Desiderio, Diego Dario, Abu Tratter and Joseph Eriobu. The result was an abysmal 2-9 record in the Philippine Cup, a showing that prompted the team's top management to shake things up yet again.
Out went Ramos, who was replaced by Aris Dimaunahan, the team's long-time assistant coach, who was promoted to interim head coach at the start of the Commissioner's Cup. The coaching change seemed to have created some wonders for Blackwater, which also welcomed the entry of rookie Bobby Ray Parks who came on board shortly after concluding his ABL stint with the San Miguel-backed Alab Pilipinas.
Parks made a quick impact for the young franchise as Blackwater entered the playoffs as third seed in the 2019 Commissioner's Cup after compiling a 7-4 record to arrange a best-of-three quarterfinal series versus Rain or Shine. The Elite's string of luck, though, ended there after surrendering to the Elasto Painters, 2-1, in the series.
Blackwater's mid-season conference performance was their season's highlight since the team went back to its old, losing ways in the Governors' Cup. The Elite only won twice in the season-ending conference to close its 2019 campaign with an 11-22 win-loss slate.
Team chemistry has always been a key ingredient to the success of any PBA squad, but that's something Blackwater has yet to achieve in its five years in the league.
Parks' exceptional showing right in his first conference in the PBA proved his readiness to stardom in the pro league as he finished with averages of 22.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals.
The three-time ABL Local MVP capped his scintillating first conference with Blackwater by emerging as a Best Player of the Conference contender. He eventually lost to TNT combo guard Jayson Castro for the top individual award for the Commissioner's Cup.
But then again, the series of player movements in the Governors' Cup practically destroyed whatever gains Blackwater had achieved during the previous conference.
They let go of Mike DiGregorio, whom the team traded to TNT in exchange for backup guard Brian Heruela six games into the third conference. Not shortly after Blackwater shipped Allein Maliksi and Raymar Jose to Meralco for KG Canaleta, Mike Tolomia and a pair of future second-round picks.
The clincher happened when Blackwater decided to trade Parks, considered by many as the franchise's cornerstone, to TNT in exchange for Don Trollano, Anthony Semerad and a 2021 first-round pick before trade deadline in early November.
With these series of trades, the Elite's title hopes for the Governors' Cup quickly vanished as Dimaunahan had no time to find the right mix for his new crew. The Elite closed their doomed season by finishing with a 2-9 slate in the Governors' Cup.
What they need
The incoming 2019 PBA Rookie Draft in December sure promises a bevy of talent. Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena and former Blue Eagle top big man Isaac Go are expected to lead the PBA aspirants this year.
Blackwater is expected to end up with the no. 1 overall pick in the December rookie draft. And there's no doubt, that picking either Ravena or Go could help the Blackwater franchise's cause moving forward.
But the more serious questions Blackwater need to answer this early are the following: How serious are the Elite in competing in the 2020 season? Will the Elite continue to trade their remaining "assets"? What do they plan to do with their first-round pick?
Blackwater still has a solid young core of Mac Belo, Carl Bryan Cruz, Paul Desiderio, Roi Sumang, Don Trollano and Mike Tolomia. It can build on this core and add a few more pieces in the frontcourt.
Veterans like KG Canaleta and Mike Cortez are now in the twilight of their PBA careers, but the team's young core can benefit from these two veterans, whose vast experience can come in handy.
For now, the Blackwater management should make a long, hard search this offseason and ask itself what it really wants to accomplish moving forward.
Once their course of action for 2020 and beyond become clear, then and only then, can Blackwater start dreaming again of winning a PBA championship.