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Sam Miguel

Its A Team Thing

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Basketball is a team sport. There are five guys making up a side on court at all times. There are easily seven to eleven other guys on the bench. In the pros, there might be two or three guys on the reserve list, quite apart from those with farm teams who can call up any guy any time to be on the regular roster.

Coaches will set up systems on offense and defense that maximizes the total talent and skill of their guys, especially if they are not a particularly deep, strong, or big team. It is a very simple principle: in team sports the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes, the minute the team superstar is declared out for the season with an ACL injury, a contender will most likely struggle monumentally to the playoffs only to take an early exit. Yes, some losses, especially superstars, cannot be made up for with the rest of the roster, in spite of the best coaching and even novenas to all the saints. Yes, all you need is one guy not being on the same page to completely undo a carefully laid out plan.

But the team is still supreme. No matter how good your superstar is he still needs support. That is why the formula has always been to build around your best player. You get one elite player, give him two all star sidekicks, then complete the rotation with four or five good quality role players. Seriously, even Michael Jordan would never have won all those championships if he had been surrounded by say Mike Smrek, Jon Sundvold, Terry Catledge, and Kurt Rambis, no Horace Grant, no Dennis Rodman, no Luc Longley, and especially no Scottie Pippen.

In the PBA only four teams have ever completed a grand slam title reign. Each and every one of those teams had at least an all star starting five.

Now if one guy cannot win championships by himself, why is it fans, sportswriters, and even basketball lifers seem to believe that one guy can be blamed for the failings of his team?

It does not make sense to me. One guy, even if he was the best player of his era, still needs other good players on his side to win championships. But we are quick to blame one guy for the failings of an entire team. Michael Jordan didn't win those championships, his team, the Chicago Bulls did. Yes, he was the superstar, arguably the best player ever, but it is not his name alone in the history books, it is his team. Same goes for the likes of Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers, Larry Bird and Bill Russell with the Celtics, Tim Duncan with the Spurs, and LeBron James with the Heat. Those triumphs may have been due in large part to those individuals, but they are attributed wholly to those teams.

So why is it when the Lakers aren't doing so well this season, the blame is heaped only or primarily on Bryant? He's the league's leading scorer, so he must be doing everything he can. He is paid to lead this team, and to lead it by scoring. A lot. Unfortunately the Lakers have a current record more reminiscent of the Clippers from the 1980's. They are currently at 8-17, the third-worst team in the entire Western Conference.

Same goes for LA Tenorio and Barangay Ginebra. As of this writing, Ginebra is set to take on Talk N Text tonight at the Big Dome to determine who advances to the semifinals versus either Rain Or Shine or Alaska. Tenorio has had a bad Philippine Cup so far, with a 1.3 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. At the start of the conference the Gin Kings were on a five-game roll, but they faltered midway through the eliminations, and were at one point skidding to a four-game losing streak, settling at a poor 6-5 to end the eliminations.

I am unaware of all the number-crunching the better writers have put together to bolster their cases against both Bryant and Tenorio. All I can say is: those numbers prove nothing not already known.

Bryant is an aging superstar with arguably one of the weaker Lakers rosters he's ever played on. Sure, he's got all star-types in Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer, but there is only so much the three of them can do. His ball movement-killing tendency to hold on to the ball for 15 seconds of the shot clock is sure not helping, but this is Bryant we're talking about. Do you really want the offense to go through say Nick Young or Jordan Hill? The Lakers will live and die with the guy who guarantees them the billion-dollar TV coverage deals.

Tenorio supposedly has the best frontline in the PBA with the biggest player in the league, Greg Slaughter, and 6-foot-9 pogo stick Japheth Aguilar. They even have a recent MVP in the venerable Mark Caguioa, and young talents Joseph Yeo and Chris Ellis, with a tough, experienced, and big complementary crew. But this team supposedly runs a lot of the triangle offense that head coach Jeff Cariaso imbibed from long-time mentor Tim Cone. That system is one of the most difficult things to learn in the game, and it might be a mismatch for the more ouido-oriented Gin Kings. Plus much like Bryant for the Lakers, Tenorio is the main man for the Gin Kings. Maybe no one will ever admit it, but he is reportedly the highest-paid player now on the Ginebra roster. That is the kind of trust SMC management has in him. And in spite of all the loud voices, Ginebra's legions of fans will gut anybody getting rid of their Lieutenant.

To me this comes down to something far simpler than the pay scales, the fan love, the deals, and the other non-basketball aspects. It comes down to the coaches and the teams having to sit down, figure things out, and come up with a basketball solution to a basketball problem.

Can the Lakers get out and push the tempo at every opportunity? I think they can and they should. Slowing the game down has not helped their cause all that much, that win against the Spurs notwithstanding. Boozer and Jordan Hill can clear the boards, but Lin and Young have to get out and push that tempo at every opportunity, and Bryant has to join them on the break.

Their playoff game versus GlobalPort showed the Gin Kings play better when Tenorio is allowed to freelance a bit more without however dribbling the damn clock to death. With the ball movement they displayed against a team with a clearly superior backcourt, the Ginebra guards were able to maximize the size and strength inside of Slaughter, Aguilar, and even Mamaril.

If this was a trial of both men, even a middling lawyer could easily make reasonable doubt and get them off the hook.

It is up to their teams to figure out that in the end there is still much they can do about their fortunes.
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Philippine Basketball


  1. Sam Miguel's Avatar
    After another ouster, Ginebra’s ‘never say die’ philosophy must be questioned

    By Angelo Falcon

    on December 16, 2014

    MANILA — If you took away the box score on your television screens, it was easy to think that it was Ginebra who was well ahead in the dying moments of their quarterfinals game against Talk ‘N Text.

    Not because they were dominating on both ends of the court, but because they didn’t show the sense of urgency that a team on the verge of elimination would expectedly show in front of thousands of their supporters.

    That was basically the story of the game, the story of the night, the story of the season for Ginebra.

    For all the talks about their “never say die” attitude, there’s just one thing that the Gin Kings proved in that game — it’s the fact that it’s hard to revive something that has long been dead.

    And no, this loss doesn’t fall on the shoulders of LA Tenorio, who alongside Joseph Yeo, was the only bright spot for the crowd darlings in this game.

    This loss falls on the state of the team as a whole, and how far off they’ve fell from the philosophy that Sonny Jaworski and his crew built from the late 80s up until his retirement before the turn of the millennium.

    The very same philosophy and image that has endeared Ginebra to the fans back then now only remains as a happy memory to the people who were lucky enough to witness it live.

    And now the younger generation of PBA fans must be wondering: “Is this what the fuss is all about? Never say die? The league’s most popular team? You have got to be kidding me. “

    That is why it’s just so easy for the so-called “haters” of Ginebra to make fun of the team and its supporters. That kind of performance should remind everyone why the term “Kangkong” was coined in the first place.

    Because the Ginebra now is so far off from what the team was during the time of Jaworski, when its popularity was steadily rising.

    Because those critics and “haters” never really understood why Ginebra has been popular and why the older generation will literally get into a fight for the team.

    Because the team now isn’t really the type of squad that would shut those critics up, and give their ever devoted fans a performance that they truly deserve.

    This loss only solidified one thing that Ginebra fans have long denied.

    Maybe, just maybe, they’re fighting and cheering for just a memory that will never be revived. — Rivals 2014

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