The San Miguel management took matters into its own hands by indefinitely suspending Arwind Santos, Kelly Nabong and Ronald Tubid for their involvement in a scuffle that broke out during their practice over the weekend.
SMB coach Leo Austria said the suspensions serve as "a strong reminder that nobody's above the policy of the company." PBA commissioner Willie Marcial is, at the moment, unlikely to hand out sanctions of his own, saying "what the San Miguel management decided to do was enough for me."
ESPN5.com's Chuck Araneta, Charlie Cuna, Carlo Pamintuan, Jutt Sulit, and Noel Zarate react to the suspensions.
Describe your reaction to the suspension in one word.
Chuck Araneta: Shocked.
Charlie Cuna: Surprised.
Carlo Pamintuan: Shocked.
Jutt Sulit: Wow. It came in shocking, especially with the timing. The smaller picture, they were just about to play an important game against TNT. The bigger picture, they're chasing that elusive Grand Slam.
Noel Zarate: Appropriate. Despite the fact that tussles do happen occasionally between teammates, the personalities involved have already had a history of misconduct. The organization acted appropriately.
With the limited knowledge made public on what really happened, was the suspension just right or excessive, and why?
Chuck: Just right. All conference long, we've heard rumors and buzz around the team that something wasn't right with them. And it's strange for a squad to have these kinds of issues since they're chasing history and the Grand Slam. For San Miguel to dole out this kind of punishment means that it is not playing around, and it knows how serious a distraction this could prove to be for the team and its chemistry.
Charlie: Excessive, precisely because we do not know what really happened by virtue of the apparent code of silence. The nature of the suspension, though, suggests that the incident was serious and could also be aggravated by previously known conduct of the parties concerned.
Carlo: We know close to nothing about the situation aside from hearsay so my answer is if SMB's management saw it fit to put its foot down and hand this heavy sentence to the three, then it is just right. The management has all the facts and it was very clear about its decision. I applaud the SMB management for making sure that there was no further need for the PBA Commissioner to come in and give out the sanctions, doing it themselves. It was a clear statement that no individual is above the team and that actions detrimental to the franchise will not be tolerated.
Jutt: I thought sanctions definitely needed to be handed out. Yes, it happened in practice with no TV coverage. But fans and other spectators were there. That still has an effect on the public image of the team and the PBA. There's a certain responsibility that anyone affiliated with the league has, especially players. It could have been easier for SMB to move past it and have all three guys play in their colossal duel with TNT, but I thought they did the right thing.
Noel: Just right. The indefinite nature puts the issue on the erring parties to figure out what steps they'll need to take to firstly rectify the situation and secondly to make sure it doesn't happen again.
What does this mean for the three local players going forward (i.e., playing careers since all are on the wrong side of 30 and Nabong's contract is up)?
Chuck: Arwind Santos should be fine. I doubt that we see him end his career this way, considering all that he and the team has been through together. Nabong and Tubid are different cases. Both of these guys have already been suspended by San Miguel this season, the first time coming during the infamous Spider-Man incident. My guess is management will look at what the three have accomplished with the team before making a decision.
Charlie: Teams will still take chances on players with talent, but obviously there may be (more) red flags after this for these players. Precisely because they are all grizzled veterans, owners and management of other squads may see them as old dogs who may not be able to learn new tricks. There is always room for second (or third or fourth) chances of course.
Carlo: It's tough to say. I'm quite certain that SMB officials are also thinking of future repercussions of this event and the penalties that came along with it. However, it was a step necessary for the franchise. If the three players involved show remorse for the situation and make the necessary steps to patch things up, then I can see SMB giving them another shot.
Jutt: For now, I see things being cleared up as soon as possible with minimal repercussions in the near future. If they weren't moving forward into the playoffs, maybe the management can talk about more severe punishments. But there is a grander goal ahead and that's where the focus needs to be.
Noel: Arwind Santos is still a former MVP and has been a major contributor on the Beermen's championship runs. However, this is the second incident that he has been involved in that could strain his relationship with management. He could be looking at a shorter suspension but not without an ultimatum that he "acts like a leader" to refocus on the task of the Grand Slam pursuit. Ronald Tubid and Kelly Nabong might be in for a lengthier shelving with the latter's contract extension placed in jeopardy (especially with the addition of Mo Tuatuaa and the upcoming Rookie Draft).
What does this mean for the playoff (and Grand Slam) chances of SMB?
Chuck: A lot of people are saying that the Beermen are doomed, because they are undermanned without Nabong, Tubid and Santos. To those people, I'd like to introduce you to June Mar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross. I don't think you're ever undermanned when you have those guys on your team. The Beermen still have as good a shot as any team to win the title. It will be trickier because they'll need to rely on their championship core even more, but i'd ride with those guys plus a hardworking import in John Holland any day of the week.
Charlie: It makes it more of a challenge since the bench gets shallower and Arwind in particular is a huge part of the recent success and is undeniably a clutch player. But SMB is still stacked even without them. A little adjustment and stepping-up might still get them through.
Carlo: Of course, it will hurt their chances. The absence of Arwind Santos is huge because he's been a focal part of all of their success. Ronald Tubid does not really get to see a lot of action and Kelly Nabong's role has diminished a bit upon the arrival of Moala Tautuaa so it's clear that it's Santos they'll miss the most. Still, even if they're in the lower part of the rankings and facing a twice-to-win disadvantage, the Beermen have proven they could bounce back and still compete. They won their last championship without Marcio Lassiter so it's not that far-fetched to see them win without the three. I think the bigger worry here is their import situation. John Holland is good but Dez Wells was on a different level, he was on a potentially Grand-Slam-winning level so it remains to be seen if there will be changes in that situation.
Jutt: Well, it's should be safe to say that their loss to TNT was somehow influenced by the absence of these players. Not to say that they would have automatically won with them in uniform. But Santos is a key guy. Nabong is a rotation player. Their absences were felt. Now they fall to a twice-to-win disadvantage against Ginebra. The journey to the Grand Slam just got a lot tougher.
Noel: The team's chemistry has been thrown into a flux and from this point onwards SMB has to assume that the unit that lost to TNT last Wednesday is the unit they'll have until season's end. The fracas may have created a faction within the ranks that may need extra time during the offseason to address. Needless to say, their Grand Slam bid looks to be in serious peril.
How many games do you think the suspensions will last?
Chuck: Remainder of the Governors' Cup.
Charlie: This is tricky. If they hurdle the Quarters, do you bring back all or some right away? But then that might soften the impact of the suspension. In the same way they internally decided about the suspension, SMB management and ownership will meet often and earnestly to make the decision on when (if?) to reinstate them. Have the feeling though that they might be done for the season based on the wording of the team statement.
Carlo: I think we've seen the last of the three for the season. It's unfortunate that they will not be a part of celebrating the Grand Slam if SMB gets it or if their absence led to their failure to capture it, but that's just how it is. Winning another championship, even if it's for a Grand Slam, cannot take precedence over the core values of the SMB franchise.
Jutt: Not too long. Maybe they're back in time for the quarterfinals. It's going to be tough to take down Ginebra, especially with an incomplete cast. SMB might need those guys back ASAP.
Noel: Until March 1, 2020. This situation will require time.