No team fluctuated as violently from conference to conference like the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters this season. From setting team win records in the Philippine Cup, to a season-changing suspension for their key player, to a dismal Governors' Cup campaign, the Fuel Masters certainly swung the pendulum from end to end.
The Fuel Masters were the biggest surprise of the Philippine Cup, when they broke all sorts of franchise records en route to their first ever top seed at the end of the elimination round. Not only that, the Fuel Masters even made it to the semifinals for the first time ever, as they disposed of the Alaska Aces in an emotional victory for their newly acquired superstar, Calvin Abueva.
Though Phoenix Pulse were overwhelmed by the eventual champions San Miguel Beermen in five games, the Fuel Masters put the whole league on notice that they were ready and hungry for more than a quick cameo in the Quarterfinals.
Or so we thought.
June 2, 2019 is a day that will forever live in infamy for fans of Phoenix Pulse, and perhaps the entire league. Because that was the day that Calvin Abueva got tangled up with TNT KaTropa import Terrence Jones, which ultimately led to his ejection. And while many expected major repercussions, no one could have expected the penalty that was laid down on The Beast: indefinite suspension.
No Calvin Abueva for Phoenix Pulse. He played a measly two games in the Commissioner's Cup, and missed the entire Governors' Cup. And without the heart and soul of the Fuel Masters, something was missing entirely. A Beast-sized void that not even Matthew Wright, in his finest season leading the franchise in scoring and assists, could overcome.
And thus, the Fuel Masters enter the offseason with a lot of uncertainty, still unsure when Abueva will be able to join the team again. And if he does, for how long? Though signs point to him soon being given the green light, will he be able to shake all of the baggage, and stay with his team until the end of the season?
What they need
For starters, they need Calvin Abueva back in the lineup. That's a given.
But beyond that, there are a few holes still in the Fuel Masters frontcourt, particularly with recent announcement that stalwarts Doug Kramer and Willie Wilson have decided to hang up their sneakers for good. The backcourt is rock solid with Wright, RJ Jazul and Alex Mallari proving to be reliable, and LA Revilla should be back next season to provide even more stability.
However, they can still use a lot more size, particularly with Kramer not available anymore to guard against the June Mar Fajardos and Greg Slaughters of the world. And while bigs are always in short supply, the Fuel Masters may have some options, since they finished so low in the last two conferences. They should grab the best available big man, and try to develop him alongside the developing Jason Perkins, and promising center Jorey Napoles.
But something will always be lacking for Phoenix Pulse as long as Abueva isn't available. He's the game changer, the player that Phoenix Pulse can proudly flaunt that the rest of the PBA doesn't have. If he can come back, and be on his best behavior, expect the Fuel Masters to return to the high lofts that they reached, just two conferences ago.