For the first time since the PBA’s 32nd season back in 2006, the Philippine Cup will not be the opening conference in Asia’s oldest professional basketball league. Instead, with the schedule permitting the return of the Bay Area Dragons, the league decided that the Commissioner’s Cup will come first.
Barangay Ginebra will be defending their championship starting October 15.
While the conference is still far into the horizon, some teams have already made their decisions when it comes to which imports will be seeing action for them. With that, here’s our list of imports we’d want to see to spice up the competition in the PBA’s 48th-season opener.
The resident import will be returning to try and lead Ginebra in their title-retention bid. Since he replaced Paul Harris in 2016, Ginebra has only played four games without Brownlee in all import conferences. This happened in 2018 with Charles Gacia where they ended up with a 1-3 win-loss tally.
Weirdly, Brownlee seems to get more credit in the Commissioner’s Cup as he has won the Best Import of the Conference twice against bigger opposition and only once in the Governors’ Cup where he has won more championships.
TNT governor and PBA chairman Ricky Vargas has already announced that the 2023 Governors’ Cup Best Import of the Conference and champion Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be returning to the Tropang Giga as it appears they would emulate Ginebra in having a resident import for both conferences.
Hollis-Jefferson has proven he can defend taller players so being under 6-foot-6 won’t be too much of an issue for the Tropang Giga, although they might need to add another big to their rotations while waiting for the full recovery of Justin Chua.
Andrew Nicholson unfortunately was not able to finish Bay Area’s stint in the last Commissioner’s Cup Finals with a badly sprained ankle. However, it is clear that when he’s healthy, he can be the top import in the entire field even if he may still not be allowed to win an individual award.
Nicholson is an efficient scorer and a strong rebounder but his best attribute might be the chemistry he now has with the rest of the Dragons as they have played a lot of games together.
From Last Season
Aside from a disciplinary DNP, it was a great PBA debut for Quincy Miller as he played for the Converge FiberXers. They made it to their second straight playoffs but got booted out in the quarterfinals.
Miller was an amazing scorer as he averaged 29.9 points alongside 15.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals, and 2.9 blocks. With conference highs of 46 points, 20 rebounds, 5 steals, and 9 blocks, it was clear that he can do everything and help any team on both ends of the court. At just 30 years of age, he still has a lot of basketball to play and a return to the Philippines could be a possibility as he enjoyed his stint here, even asking for consideration as a naturalized player.
The Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots were hoping that Nick Rakocevic would be their resident import in the Commissioner’s Cup. After the likes of Denzel Bowles, James Mays, and Ricardo Ratliffe, the franchise has struggled to find the right fit. They’ve had conferences where they went through three or even four imports so welcoming back Rakocevic, who played from start to finish with them, could be in the cards.
Yes, it might have not ended well for the Serbian as he fell for the traps set by Christian Standhardinger but at 25 years of age, there’s still a lot of experience to gain and growing up to do for center.
The second former Converge import in the list, Tom Vodanovich is the type of import who could also play in both conferences. He might be one of the smaller imports in the Commissioner’s Cup but he plays bigger than his size with his well-built stature.
Unfortunately, Vodanovich only played a single game for the FiberXers but he still made a good account of himself with 39 points and 10 rebounds in their quarterfinal loss to the San Miguel Beermen.
Even head coach Aldin Ayo said he wants Vodanovich to be their resident import as he can lead the team statistically and also impart knowledge to his local teammates.
Former Champions and Finalists
The 2017 Commissioner’s Cup Best Import of the Conference and Champion with the San Miguel Beermen was able to return to the PBA. The Colossus was unstoppable against TNT in the Finals as he scored 30 points in Game 6 to claim the championship for the Beermen against the behemoth Joshua Smith.
He was not able to return in 2018 as SMB decided to go with Renaldo Balkman, who led them all the way to the Finals. Rhodes finally got another tour of duty in the PBA in 2019 but he limped to a 2-4 win-loss tally. He was then replaced by the next import in the list.
Rhodes got to play in Japan and Korea but he’s slowly getting up there in age so another return to the PBA needs to happen soon.
While Rhodes was more of a power player, Chris McCullough came in as an athletic wing, which was perfect alongside June Mar Fajardo. He helped SMB recover from a slow start as he amassed a record of 16 wins against seven losses.
From a 2-1 series deficit, McCullough powered SMB to three straight wins to claim the championship. He totaled 70 points and 35 rebounds in the final two games to defeat the next import on the list.
McCullough played in Korea, Puerto Rico, and Taiwan and even overcame an ACL in the years after his PBA stint. He’s been campaigning for Philippine naturalization and a return to the PBA might get him closer to that possibility.
Terrence Jones was undoubtedly among the most talented imports we’ve ever seen in the PBA. He was the Best Player of the Conference in 2019 and he had a good crew of locals with TNT but it still was not enough to win a championship.
His on-court performance is unquestionable but there were whispers of a struggle between the talented former NBA player and his team when it comes to practice. Jones could turn a decent team into a legitimate contender in the PBA.
After the Philippines, Jones has spent most of his time in Puerto Rico where he has played for five different teams in five seasons.
Yes, Omari Spellman just signed a fresh contract with Anyang KGC in the upcoming KBL season. However, anything can happen in the world of basketball. Hollis-Jefferson was also playing in the KBL for the Jeonju KCC Egis last season before heading to the PBA and winning a championship with TNT.
Spellman’s situation is a lot different though. He helped his squad win the KBL regular season championship. Spellman was also named the EASL Champions Week Most Valuable Player award, averaging 31.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in three games that included a 142-87 beatdown of the San Miguel Beermen.
Still, it would be great to see the 2018 NBA Draft first-rounder in the PBA even though it’s a long shot.
A naturalized Cambodian as a PBA import? Why not.
Brandon Peterson looks like he will be a great fit to a team who needs an interior presence. He’s a strong inside operator who’s played in Sweden, Greece, Belgium, France, Mexico, Argentina, and other leagues all over the world. Peterson is the type of player who knows exactly who he is. He barely takes triples and shoots about 55% from the field everywhere he played.
Peterson had 18 points (7 of 11 FGs) and 14 rebounds in the gold medal match against Gilas Pilipinas in the Southeast Asian Games. He should benefit from playing for a team that will give him as many touches as he wants in the shaded area and the PBA has a handful of teams that could maximize him.
A former New Zealand NBL Most Valuable Player was already mentioned in this list in Vodanovich. Since the schedule of the Commissioner’s Cup might work with free agents from New Zealand, then maybe it’s a possibility to get the current MVP in Xavier Cooks.
The Australian will easily make the height limit and what he brings to the table is versatility and efficiency. He normed 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 13 games. He shot an impressive 60% from the field and 46% from deep so any team would be lucky to have him.
The only thing making this a long shot is that he might chase a spot in the NBA. He played 10 games for the Washington Wizards last season, where he averaged 3.8 points in about 13 minutes per game.
A former member of the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz in the NBA, Eric Paschall might be smaller than the other imports on this list but he plays naturally as a power forward. The 41st overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Paschall had a strong rookie season where he averaged 14.0 points in 60 games played.
However, his NBA career, well at least his first stint there, would be done after three seasons and 158 games in total.
He’s currently playing for Leones de Ponce in Puerto Rico.
Are there any imports you want to see again?