After being one missed call away from entering the Finals of the Philippine Cup, to barely making the playoffs in the Commissioner's Cup, the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters formally became the third team eliminated from the ongoing PBA Governors' Cup last week and now must ponder on what went wrong in their steady decline this season. The team is still loaded with young talent and still have a few remnants of its last championship run. They have some time to reassess but with the new season opening in less than four months, Coach Caloy Garcia and his staff have to begin their plans sooner than later.
Point guard Chris Tiu announced his retirement from the PBA prior to the start of the season after only six seasons with the Elasto Painters.
This followed TY Tang's sudden retirement the year previous and the organization was forced to hand over the reins of the squad to young playmakers Maverick Ahanmisi and Rey Nambatac. It seemed to have worked at the onset of the 2019-2020 season with a tremendous showing during the elimination round of the Philippine Cup.
After folding early in last season's Governors' Cup (3-8 record-missed the playoffs), Rain or Shine shocked the league in the 2019 Philippine Cup by blitzing the opposition en route to finishing as the second seed in the playoffs and made short work of a resilient NorthPort Batang Pier quintet to arrange a semifinals duel with the Magnolia Hotshots, who were coming off winning the Governors' Cup.
Up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Elasto Painters succumbed to the stifling Magnolia defenses and before they knew it, they were in Game 7, fighting for survival.
The Elasto Painters were looking good in the knockout match, up by 17 points at one juncture. But in true Magnolia spirit, the Hotshots rallied and with 3:30 remaining in the final period, Rome de la Rosa gave Magnolia the lead with a shot-clock buzzer-beating triple, 53-50.
That shot would be the topic of several debates as many replay angles showed that the Hotshots forward still had the ball in his hands when the shot clock had expired. The game would eventually go into overtime and Magnolia would go on to win the contest 63-60 to barge into the Finals after finishing as the sixth seed.
De la Rosa's basket led to several investigations and the league would eventually introduce a rule change wherein any suspicion of shots that could have either coincided or exceeded the shot clock (or game clock) buzzer-even if not under the last two minutes of the fourth quarter-would be subject to review.
Rain or Shine appeared to have fallen into a rut and staggered just to make the playoffs in the subsequent Commissioner's Cup as the sixth seed. However, led by power import Carl Montgomery, the Elasto Painters went on to upset the third seeded Blackwater Elite and arrange a semifinals series against Chris McCollough and the San Miguel Beermen (which had to overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage against second seeded NorthPort).
McCollough flexed his muscles throughout the best-of-five affair in a favorable match-up against Montgomery and the Beermen claimed the series in four games and eventually captured the title against Terrence Jones and TNT KaTropa.
Prior to the Governors' Cup, the team consummated a trade that raised many eyebrows when Ahanmisi was dealt to the Alaska Aces in exchange for utility guard Ping Exciminiano and the Aces' first round pick in the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft.
Ahanmisi, selected as the surprise third overall pick in the loaded 2015 Draft, was seen by many as Tiu's heir-apparent and his trade became an indication that the franchise was beginning to head in a different direction. Young guns Nambatac, rookie Jayvee Mocon and former Gilas Cadet Ed Daquioag become the new cornerstones of the team.
The Governors' Cup campaign turned out to be an utter disaster as Rain or Shine tried four different imports and despite emerging victorious in its last two games (with reinforcement Rich Ross), the team missed the bus to the playoffs and now have several expiring contracts to decide on, plus three first round picks in the 2019 Draft.
What they need
With James Yap (entering his 16th season), Beau Belga (entering his 12th) and skipper Gabe Norwood (entering his 11th) entering the twilights of their colourful PBA careers, Rain or Shine does have to fill the positions to initially back-up these seasoned veterans and to add depth to their young core.
Nambatac, Mocon and Daquioag are great pieces to build on plus the addition of Exciminiano also adds firepower on both ends of the floor in the second unit.
The steady improvement from center Jewel Ponferrada (deeper range added) and orchestrator Kris Rosales (shown plenty of leadership skills) also bodes well, but the skill sets of Yap, Belga and Norwood will be difficult to match.
With three first round picks, Garcia may have the chance to nab PBA-ready collegians such as Larry Muyang, Roosevelt Adams and perhaps even an Allyn Bulanadi to begin the rebuild on a solid note.
The imports they also bring in have initially disrupted whatever cohesion they have established in the Philippine Cup. Montgomery and Ross have proven to be in-sync with the present Rain or Shine make-up and if they could already be contracted for their services next season, then they could spell the difference sooner than later.