When Season 45 of the Philippine Basketball Association unfurls on March 8 the landscape will be different as two of its “towers” are not around. And I mean that literally.
This as San Miguel big man June Mar Fajardo and his Barangay Ginebra counterpart Greg Slaughter are set to miss the season-opening tournament Philippine Cup, and even beyond, for varying reasons.
Five-time league most valuable player Fajardo is out as he recovers from a leg injury after fracturing his right tibia in their practice last week.
He had surgery on Feb. 4 and was ruled out indefinitely.
Slaughter, meanwhile, surprised many at the weekend after announcing on his social media accounts that he is going “to take a break” from playing in the local pro league to work on aspects of himself after his contract with the Gin Kings recently expired. He was with the team for six years.
Fajardo’s situation is really unfortunate especially since he expressed to this writer how was looking forward to getting their campaign going in Season 45.
I had a chance to talk to the “Kraken” a couple of weeks back at the launch of the 2020 edition of the Philippines Yearbook on the 50 greatest Filipino athletes of all-time, wherein he is one of those feted and he shared that he was determined to get back to work.
He cited how they ended last season as one of the motivations for him.
In a position anew to win a rare PBA grand slam after bagging the first two conferences of the season, the Beermen failed to move past the quarterfinals of the season-ending Governors’ Cup, eliminated by eventual champion Barangay Ginebra.
It marked the second time that Fajardo felt such a sting after being in the same position in 2017.
He was also excited to get back to action after having an extensive vacation following their early Governors’ Cup elimination.
Fajardo shared that he really took time to rest his body after what he deemed to be eight straight years of playing basketball in the PBA and the national team.
His goal moving forward was to continue building on what he and his team have accomplished to date, including winning a sixth straight Philippine Cup title this season.
Then the horrifying injury happened on Feb. 3 in their practice at the Acropolis Greens gym in what published reports said took place just as the team was about to call it a day in practice.
Slaughter’s case, meanwhile, caught me by surprise like most in the PBA-dom.
Coming from another title conquest in the last conference, you would think “Greg-zilla” was to say and continue to roll with the Kings.
Then again, admittedly Slaughter’s stay with Barangay Ginebra was a “polarizing” one with some arguing that the big man, while doing things here and there, was not progressing as envisioned when he was drafted by the team in 2013, and that the Kings would be better off turning their attention to other players instead.
It did not help either that prior to his announcement, Slaughter was rumored to be on the trading block, particularly for Northport big man Christian Standhardinger.
He did not categorically say if that was the reason for his decision to go into sabbatical but he did vow to come back better with the “best yet to come.”
Now, sans these two towers it is going to be interesting how the rest of the league would fashion out their campaigns, and how the whole PBA landscape would shape up in Season 45.
Considering what Fajardo and Slaughter bring not only with their size, them out means two big thorns removed on the side of opposing teams on both ends of the court.
While this does not necessarily saying that the bids of San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra are already doomed, since they remain formidable and champion-caliber even without their bigs, still they would have to adjust their respective attacks with what they have at their current disposal, which at this point needs to be seen whether they succeed in it or not.
To Fajardo, prayers for your speedy and successful recovery, and, to Slaughter, may you find what you are looking for as you step away from the game.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.