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2019 PBA Season Summary: Alaska Aces

The 2019 PBA season was a year of transition for the Alaska Aces.

Alex Compton stepped down as head coach after 15 conferences with the Aces. He was at the helm until the end of the Commissioner's Cup. Although Compton failed to steer Alaska to a PBA championship in his four-year coaching stint, he managed to guide the Aces to five Finals appearances.

He compiled an impressive 131-109 coaching record with Alaska for a 54.5 percent clip. The Aces missed the playoffs just twice in 2017 after suffering early exits in that season's edition of the Commissioner's Cup and Governors' Cup.

What happened

Alaska compiled an impressive 23-10 record in the 2018 season on the way to a semifinal finish in the Commissioner's Cup and was runner-up in the Governors' Cup.

But things changed when the 2019 Philippine Cup rolled in as the Aces limped to a 4-7 record at the end of the eliminations.

The Aces had to engage NLEX in a do-or-die match for the eight and final playoff spot. Fortunately, they beat the Road Warriors, but that was as far as Alaska would go. Without the injured Vic Manuel, Alaska got mauled by top seed Phoenix in the quarterfinals.

In the succeeding conference, import woes marred Alaska's Commissioner's Cup campaign. Alaska had to change reinforcements in the elims from Chris Daniels, to one-and-done Nino Johnson, before settling with Diamon Simpson, who was best remembered for leading the franchise to the 2010 Fiesta Conference title. The decision to bring back Simpson seemed to work as Alaska reached the playoffs as the no. 8 seed.

The Aces then surprised the top seeded TNT KaTropa in the first game to force a winner-take-all match. Alaska had another explosive start in the do-or-die affair, erecting leads of as many as 15 points in the second period. But the Aces' hot shooting eventually turned cold in the second half. TNT shot 8-of-10 from three-point country in the third quarter alone as the KaTropa eventually advanced to the semis.

Alaska's struggles in the first two conferences prompted team owner Wilfred Steven Uytengsu to finally make the necessary change, paving the way for long-time assistant coach Jeff Cariaso to assume the top coaching post.

Under Cariaso, player movements started as Alaska parted ways with Chris "Ping" Eximiniano, Carl Bryan Cruz and Chris Banchero. In exchange, the Aces got Maverick Ahanmisi from Rain or Shine, rookie Abu Tratter from Blackwater and Rodney Brondial and Rob Herndon from Magnolia.

Alaska opened the season-ending conference with a defeat to Columbian Dyip, while losing Noy Baclao as well to a season-ending knee injury.

The team also simply followed its Commissioner's Cup narrative after failing to get the right kind of import early. Alaska's original choice Brendan Dawson was measured beyond the 6-5 height limit, while his replacement Justin Watts suffered a calf injury during his second game with Alaska.

Franko House eventually came over to serve as Alaska's import for the rest of the conference. Cariaso's coaching stint, though, wasn't off to a great start as well as Alaska began the conference with a 5-game losing streak.

Cariaso eventually captured his first win as Aces coach when his team scored a 78-71 decision over Rain or Shine. The Aces managed to go 5-1 the rest of the way to grab the 7th seed in the playoffs where their title hopes vanished after bowing to the Meralco Bolts in the quarterfinals.

What they need

Considering the coaching change that happened a month before the start of the Governors' Cup, Alaska's showing for the first conference under Cariaso was already noteworthy.

But with Alaska's veteran core starting to age, the coming offseason is a perfect time for Cariaso to continue retooling the team's roster.

Sonny Thoss is already 37 and JVee Casio, who has been in and out of the team's roster in recent years due to an assortment of injuries, is 33. Vic Manuel is still relatively young at 32, but he battled health issues the last two seasons.

Since the injured Baclao will be out for over eight months months, it is imperative for Alaska to prioritize bolster its frontcourt with a solid big man beginning in the 2020 Philippine Cup.

The entry of Maverick Ahanmisi is a solid boost for the Aces' backcourt, given the former Rain or Shine playmaker's experience. Expect Ahanmisi to assume a bigger role for Alaska moving forward.

Alaska can also build its new core around young forward Jeron Teng, Kevin Racal and Abu Tratter as the Aces aim for a stronger 2020 PBA season.

Cariaso, at the moment, is probably in a wait and see mode as he awaits the final list of applicants for the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft, where the Aces expected to pick somewhere between 7th or 8th in the first round.