The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok lost to the TNT KaTropa in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals and failed to defend the title it attained last season, which put an abrupt halt to a solid campaign this year. Coach Chito Victolero and the Hotshots must now ponder on what could have been and also quickly look forward to what could be when the new PBA season begins.
After almost ending the perpetual run of its sister team San Miguel Beer in the Philippine Cup to being ousted in the quarterfinals of the Commissioner's Cup by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Magnolia always played the role of underdog despite having a roster that has great balance and Victolero's incredible defensive program.
All in all, this could be the final year of relevance of its aging core and the once young guns have also entered veteran status. The present crop of young players could be inheriting cornerstone status sooner rather than later.
After not faring too well in the 2018 Draft, the Hotshots hardly tinkered with the lineup that won the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup. By the middle of the year, they finally celebrated the return of 15-year pro Marc Pingris after over a year of recovery and rehabilitation from an ACL injury.
Despite not having Pingris in the season-opening Philippine Cup, the Hotshots bucked being the sixth seed in the playoffs to eliminate Ginebra in their quarterfinal showdown and got past Rain or Shine in the semis. They stretched the then four-time defending titlists to a seventh game in the finals, but San Miguel eventually won its fifth straight All-Filipino championship.
Many aficionados claimed that Magnolia showed the poise of a true champion and picked the Hotshots to go deep anew in the Commissioner's Cup. But the next conference saw the team struggling to find the right import.
Magnolia started out by bringing in former Columbian Dyip reinforcement John Fields. The 6'9" American had a notable showing the previous season with the Dyip and his performance in the ASEAN Basketball League helped solidify his hiring for the surging Hotshots. However, he failed to impress and was promptly replaced by James Farr.
Eventually, Farr was also sacked in favor of Rakeem Christmas, but that also didn't pan out as Magnolia exited early against the then defending kings of the conference, Barangay Ginebra, in the quarterfinals.
Romeo Travis came in early to the team's fold, a full month before the Governors' Cup.
Travis was the prime catalyst in the Hotshots' conquest of the 2018 Governors' Cup and if his winner status wasn't proven in that sortie, he went on to lead the ABL's Mono Vampire to an improbable semifinals stint despite finishing the season as the eighth seed in the playoffs.
But even with Travis, Magnolia groped for form early prompting the franchise to pull the trigger on a trade where they got Chris Banchero from the Alaska Aces for Rodney Brondial and Robbie Herndon.
Banchero had an immediate impact and solidified the now guard-heavy rotation of the Hotshots, which Victolero somehow managed to shuffle with success.
Falling once again to the sixth seed (Travis missed sometime during the conference with an ankle injury), Magnolia had TNT on the ropes until a monumental collapse in the endgame allowed the KaTropa to come from behind and finally end the Hotshots' season.
What they need
Even with the Banchero deal, Magnolia still has draft picks -- only one pick per round in the upcoming PBA Annual Rookie Draft next month.
If the math holds, the Hotshots will be picking 11th (second to the last) in all rounds.
There may not be a wide variety to choose from, but Magnolia could use a serviceable small forward with range much like University of the East's Rey Suerte or Sean Maganti of Adamson University (if still available). Grizzled warriors Pingris and Rafi Reavis have provided much spark in their careers, but a pivot with the same skill-set as Ian Sangalang could be another option.
Magnolia hasn't been known to trade, but with Pingris, Reavis, and Peter June Simon approaching the twilight of their PBA runs, they could opt to trade a few more utility players for bigger names. Rumours have been swirling about the team set on acquiring NorthPort's Christian Standhardinger and even consensus Rookie of the Year frontrunner CJ Perez.
The Hotshots do need some new pieces in its frontline now that their backcourt is ridiculously deep.
As far as the coaching staff goes, Victolero has proven himself to be one of the most underrated tacticicans in the league today, so his job appears secure. It's now going to be about finding the components that will make his philosophies into a nightmare for the opposition. If the draft won't get it done, then they will need to be creative in striving to be relevant next season.