Let's revisit the Phoenix Fuel Masters' experience with Calvin Abueva over the past year.
June 2019 - Abueva gets into a fight with Terrence Jones, all hell breaks loose, Abueva is suspended for the remainder of the Commissioner's Cup, and the entirety of the Governors' Cup.
October 2020 - Abueva joins the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters in the PBA Bubble in Calamba, but still cannot play because he is still in the midst of completing the requirements laid forth by PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial.
November 2020 - Abueva makes an emotional return to the Fuel Masters' lineup. Immediately he makes an impact on the team. He tallies a triple-double, and provides the usual heart, hustle and muscle without the antics that have tarnished his name. The Fuel Masters make the deepest run in franchise history, as they enter the semifinals only to lose in Game 5 to the TNT Tropang Giga. Abueva is also named to the Elite Five of the Bubble.
December 2020 - Abueva signs with Phoenix for three years and a max contract. It's a sign that (at the time) the Fuel Masters were committing to The Beast, and that the difficult days in the past were over.
and then.... *record scratch*
February 2021 - Abueva is traded to Magnolia.
What a bizarre turn of events. Let's try and wade through the chaos of this trade and see how this affects both squads.
Phoenix Super LPG
Acquired: Chris Banchero, Magnolia's 2021 1st round and 2nd round draft picks (6th and 18th)
Traded: Calvin Abueva, 2021 1st round pick (10th)
Banchero is an unselfish player who can make his teammates better. But that's not really the reason why the Fuel Masters acquired him. Phoenix was tops inside the Bubble in assists, with 23.4 per contest.
Instead, the real improvement that Banchero should bring to Phoenix is on the defensive end. The Fuel Masters had RJ Jazul and RR Garcia manning the pivot alongside Matthew Wright for most contests. And while Jazul is still a smart and crafty defender, he struggled against elite guards like Stanley Pringle and Jayson Castro. Banchero stands to do a much better job hounding superstars. To a certain degree, he will revert back to his role with the Aces, where he will be tasked with a heavier load, which should lead to a more impactful stint with his new squad.
Opponents only scored 96.8 points per game on 41.8 field goal percentage against the Fuel Masters, and Banchero can only help bring that number down further. They will miss the presence of Abueva for sure - his uncanny skills to cut through passing lanes and also provide help defense was a big boost Phoenix. But Banchero is not far behind in defensive impact, and should fit in nicely alongside Wright. You also can't forget about the connection between the coaching staff led by Topex Robinson and Banchero. The two worked together for several seasons in Alaska, so there should be a comfort level that lessens the adjustment period for Chris and his new squad.
Don't let Banchero's pedestrian averages of 11.0 Points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists fool you. He averaged those numbers in only 26 minutes, playing in the most crowded and talented backcourt in the league. With more opportunities and minutes, those numbers stand to improve dramatically.
The real prize though, and why the Fuel Masters were willing to risk a player of the caliber of Abueva, was the pick swap with Magnolia. As a result, the Fuel Masters jumped four spots, and now will pick sixth overall in one of the deepest drafts in PBA history.
The Fuel Masters will have several options at their disposal with this pick, and whoever they select should be able to come and immediately help the team. But they've got to absolutely nail this pick, because a player like Abueva is irreplaceable. This offseason could be the most important in franchise history. The team is at a crossroads, and this upcoming draft could decide whether they remain as one of the top contenders, or fall by the wayside once again.
Acquired: Calvin Abueva, Phoenix's 2021 1st round pick (10th)
Traded: Chris Banchero, 1st round and 2nd round draft picks (6th and 18th)
I'm much more bullish on the side of Magnolia because the fit with Abueva on the Hotshots is an excellent one for many reasons.
The first reason this trade will benefit the team is that the Hotshots cleared up the logjam in the guard position ever so slightly. There are still four guards that are starter-level quality (five if you throw in Justin Melton) competing for only 96 minutes at both guard positions. But the exit of Banchero should help everyone's roles be more cemented. Plus, it gives more opportunities for Jalalon, who took a step back in the Bubble after a promising sophomore season.
Abueva also comes in and immediately provides a jolt of energy to a Hotshots squad that was seemingly stuck in mud for extended periods of time over the past few seasons. After their championship conference two seasons ago in the Governors' Cup and another Finals trip a season after, the Hotshots just couldn't seem to get past the semifinals, suffering shocking early exits for a team that's one of the most respective and disciplined in the league. And maybe that's where Abueva can help the most. He fits their identity perfectly- a chaotic, relentless and suffocating five-man team that doesn't give up anything easy on the defensive end. The Hotshots had the second-best defensive rating inside the PBA Bubble at 97.4, and it's because they put such a premium on that end. Abueva can only help improve that mark further.
On offense, the Hotshots should also benefit from Abueva's presence because they finally have an additional playmaker that can share the load of Paul Lee. If you'll remember, this is the area where Magnolia fell short several times - they just had so much difficulty finding offense outside of Lee monster games, and Sangalang bleeding for points in the paint. As a result, their offense was middling a 100.3 offensive rating, good for only eighth in the league.
Abueva is a great playmaker in transition (6.6 assists per contest in the Bubble), another area he can help his new team in. Because of his ability to rip a rebound (10.6 per game) and trigger the fastbreak on his own, he forces defenses to turn their attention towards him, and that gave him several targets like Wright or Jazul in Phoenix. If Coach Chito Victolero is comfortable loosening the reins and allowing Calvin to get out and run, then Magnolia should easily improve on their 88.4 points (ninth overall) offense.
So the Hotshots get Abueva. But what really pushed this trade in the Hotshots favor was the fact that they were still able to get the first-round pick of the Fuel Masters. They may not be getting sixth overall, but in a draft this loaded, the 10th overall pick should still hold a lot of value for this team.
The arrival of The Beast should push the Hotshots firmly back into the championship contender table. That's what happens for any squad Abueva is on. This big move just made the upcoming season even more compelling.