Just when it seemed like the Alaska Aces and Vic Manuel were ready to play nice and put the matter of his trade request to bed, things heated up again when news came out that both player and team were still far away from a contract agreement, leaving Manuel still unsigned with around a month and a half left before the start of the season.
But now after an offseason of uncertainty marked by holdouts, unsigned from contracts and trade possibilities, forward Vic Manuel is now moving on after seven seasons with the Alaska Aces and five Finals appearances. He is now a Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Master.
Wow has this trade season been wild. Let's head straight to the trade grades.
To be clear, the Aces' intention with this trade was never to find a player in the prime of his career, ready to lead the franchise to a title. Alaska made it clear early on that they were looking to rebuild after the Calvin Abueva era, as well as to finally land the elusive big man who could fill the shoes of Sonny Thoss in his impending retirement.
With those being Alaska's ultimate objective, they made out pretty well.
The Aces actually only jumped up one pick from seventh to sixth in the first round when they swapped with the Fuel Masters. On paper, that seemed too thin an exchange to give up for Manuel. But it's an important move because the Aces now are projected to have their pick of Leonard Santillan from La Salle, and Larry Muyang from Letran. The first three picks are already more or less locked in place and are all projected to be swingmen. The Road Warriors at fourth overall could get a big man, while Rain or Shine is rumored to be chasing after a point guard in the mold of Brickman.
That should leave the Aces with the opportunity to pick either Santillan or Muyang, or whoever is available. Both players would give the Aces a tremendous boost in the frontcourt. Santillan is a talented face up scorer, who already now can provide a little bit of the offensive arsenal of Thoss, who would also be a great mentor to the youngster. Muyang on the other hand is a rugged big who has worked his tail off to become a player coveted by several teams in this Draft.
There's a case to be made that the Aces didn't need to do a pick swap in the first round, and that Manuel was maybe worth Phoenix's first round pick and the pick swap in the second round. But the reality is when a mother team and its player find themselves at odds and in a potential hold out, trade value plummets. The Aces didn't have any opportunities to showcase Manuel in the upcoming season, they had to do the deal now so they could reload for the future in the Draft.
Having Brian Heruela in the fold will also definitely help Alaska, as he immediately provides a steady hand and a Doberman defensive identity for the Aces whether as a starter or off the bench. According to Aces Head Coach Jeff Cariaso, Heruela wasn't immediately in this trade, but the PBA Trade Committee told Phoenix to add Heruela. That could be a blessing in disguise for Alaska, particularly as they already moved on from MJ Ayaay.
Time will tell what this trade eventually turns out to be for Alaska. If they can nail the sixth pick, they'll probably look back at this trade and say they made the right decision.
This was a weird one for the Fuel Masters.
Acquiring a player of Manuel's caliber, Alaska's leading scorer in the Bubble with 15.9 points on 45 percent from the field, should be a move that pushes a team firmly into the championship conversation. After all, Manuel is already turning 34 years old, and has a lot of mileage and a history of injuries. The window for the Muscle Man to be a game changer is still all the way open, but teams will want to utilize him to get the championship now.
So the question begs to be asked about the Fuel Masters: are they a title contender when the new season tips off in April?
On paper, maybe so. After all, a potential five man-lineup of Chris Banchero, RJ Jazul, Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins and Justin Chua would be tough for any team to handle. But when you study the moves that Phoenix has made this offseason, particularly trading away Calvin Abueva, and now you begin to wonder why the Fuel Masters pulled the trigger on this move.
Vic easily fortifies the frontcourt of the Fuel Masters, a team that has at times lacked scoring in the paint when Perkins isn't playing. The first big off the bench upgrade going from Dave Marcelo (now with TNT) to Manuel is huge. There's also the familiarity playing for Head Coach Topex Robinson, as they spent a lot of years in Alaska.
Manuel should keep the Fuel Masters firmly in the playoff picture, and still having their first rounder at seventh was a shrewd move. It remains to be seen though if pivoting from Abueva to Manuel this offseason was the right one to make for Phoenix Super LPG. But at least for this upcoming season, they will definitely enjoy having Manuel's instant efficient offense.
Don't sleep on the Fuel Masters yet. It doesn't feel like they're done wheeling and dealing.