Leading Barangay Ginebra to another title in the PBA Governors' Cup apparently made missing the Best Import award an immaterial loss for Justin Brownlee.
The four-time champion now holds the second-most titles ever for an import -- and the most for a reinforcement with no loss -- after piloting the Gin Kings past the Meralco Bolts to the crown in five games, where he normed 29.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks in an outstanding showcase.
"I gave him a hug and I said, 'I'm sorry, you didn't win the Best Import award.' And he turned to me and laughed. He said, 'This is so much better'. And that's just representative of who he is," Cone shared.
After watching the team's prized import dazzle in a third straight title romp of the Bolts, Cone reflected on the growth of Brownlee's game -- one that he says has been continuous evolution each time he returns to the country for a stint with the franchise.
"The thing about Justin that impressed me is that while he's been here, his game has improved so tremendously. From when we first came in terms of just being a normal stretch four, now he handles the ball, he plays mid-range, he gets to the basket, he posts up," he said.
"I remember scouting him in the NBA Summer League and thought, 'Wow, that guy would really do well in the Philippines.' But he was a little bit more one-dimensional back then," added Cone. "He was more of a just a three-and-d guy, he was a stretch four, shot a lot of three-points. And he proved he could play bigger guys and play against bigger guys even though he was only 6'5."
As Brownlee continued to expand his arsenal, Cone said he eventually saw shades of seven-time Best Import Bobby Ray Parks. The only difference this time was that he didn't have to plan against such a stellar talent.
"When I was trying to figure out ways to guard Bobby Parks, I just could not find ways," he raved. "He always would find a way to beat you, to get his shots, to get into right positions. And you would do all these different things, you know, guard him with different people, double him in different areas press up on or back up on him. I mean, no matter what you did, Bobby Parks found a way to do it, to figure a way through it.
"And that's exactly what Justin does. You can guard him in a certain way, and it'll confuse him. But you give him three or four minutes, and he's figured it out and he's moved on. Really an amazing skill that he has," he added. "I would hate to have to try to guard him on the other side."
Cone believes the 31-year-old's development makes him a player capable of thriving in the NBA at this stage in his career.
"I was talking to my son who lives in San Francisco. And we were talking about, you know how great Justin is and how hard it is to defend them and how happy I am that he's on my team," he opened "And the one thing my son said was, 'Sorry, dad. But Justin's in the wrong league. He shouldn't be in the PBA. He should be in the NBA, playing as a star somewhere, if he had given had been given a chance.' Because he's improved that much. He's an NBA-caliber guy. I don't think there's any doubt."
"I'm not gonna tell Erik Spoelstra that because Eric might scout them and steal him. So keep quiet on them. You don't want anybody coming over from the NBA taking them away," Cone laughed.
While an NBA stint for the forward, who went undrafted in 2011, might be a reach at the moment, Cone says they're going to be reaping the benefits of an even more improved Brownlee when he returns to suit up for the 2020 Commissioner's Cup later this year.
"We expect to bring him back in the second conference next time and third conference after that, and he certainly deserves a break physically, you know, physical-wise during the All-Filipino. But he'll be back next year. And I think he'll be better even next year than he was this year," he said.