December 01, 2023

GUTS AND GLORY | Ideas that could make PBA expansion really work and entice huge companies to form teams

GUTS AND GLORY | Ideas that could make PBA expansion really work and entice huge companies to form teams
Art by Royce Nicdao
During the recent press conference for the upcoming 48th season of the PBA, chairperson Ricky Vargas bared that the league is now strongly considering adding two expansion teams. PBA commissioner Willie Marcial added that there has always been interest from different companies to join Asia’s oldest professional basketball league. 

Now with the marching orders from the PBA Board of Governors, the process of expansion will start with preliminary talks with those that expressed interest.

While this news was received warmly by fans who have always felt that there’s enough talent in the Philippines scene for more PBA teams, there was also some worry since the last two expansion teams have found it difficult to be playoff contenders in the league.

Couple this with the fact that only three teams have won a championship since the PBA’s 44th season, it’s clear that any expansion team that comes in will need some help to hit the ground running.

It was in 2014 when the PBA welcomed two new teams in the Kia Sorento (now the Terrafirma Dyip) and the Blackwater Elite. They were given a few concessions to help them build their squads. This was a distinct disadvantage as compared to taking over a team, last done by the Converge FiberXers, as starting from scratch is difficult to do.

One of the concessions given to the two new squads was the expansion draft, where 24 players were selected. While there were super veterans such as Danny Ildefonso and Nic Belasco who were picked, most of the selections had three years of experience or fewer in the PBA. Currently, only one member of that expansion draft is still in the league in JP Erram, who now plays for the TNT Tropang Giga, which means the talent pool was not that deep.

This was because the PBA allowed the 10 incumbent teams to protect 12 players from the expansion draft, meaning only those at the very end of their bench could be picked up.

Another concession given to Kia and Blackwater was to join the rookie draft, but they were plugged into the 11th and 12th spots, respectively, where possible cornerstones such as Stanley Pringle, Kevin Alas, and Chris Banchero were long gone.

The two teams were then left alone to pick up players after the second round, and although they were able to get decent pieces, it was not nearly enough to help them get a good start.

To this day, Terrafirma and Blackwater have not been able to reach the semifinals in the PBA and their playoff stints have come few and far between. 

As such, here are some ideas that the league could consider to help out the possible expansion teams and really entice some of the biggest companies in the country to invest in forming a PBA franchise.

From protect 12 to protect 8

While the 12 existing teams still get to protect their core, cutting down the list from 12 to eight might make the expansion draft very interesting. It might even give players the chance they need to get themselves to the next level, something not possible with the depth of teams they’re currently on.

By simply looking at the wealth of talent from teams such as recent champions TNT, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, and San Miguel Beermen, there will be good players they’ll have to leave outside their protected list if it’s brought down to eight players from 12.

Direct hires

Before 2014, the last time the PBA welcomed an expansion team was in 2000. The Batang Red Bull Energizers were allowed to bring up six players from their PBL roster in Kerby Raymundo, Davonn Harp, Lordy Tugade, Jimwell Torion, Junthy Valenzuela, and Bernard Tanpua. They were also allowed to sign up Mick Pennisi as a direct hire while also getting the fifth overall pick of the rookie draft.

As a result, the team was able to win a championship in only its fifth conference in the PBA.

With the wealth of available talent with Filipino roots from all over the world, an expansion team can really build a strong squad from the start if it is allowed to hire players directly, as long as they complete the same requirements as all PBA rookie hopefuls.

Better spots in the draft

If direct hires will be allowed, draft spots will not be that important. However, if there will be no direct hires, then the expansion teams need a better placement. While giving them the first and second overall picks might not get the nod of the other PBA teams, going through a lottery where they have an equal shot at landing anywhere from first to 14th might be doable.

Import handicapping

Another interesting idea the PBA did before allowed the weaker teams to hire taller imports. This could be done again to help expansion teams. For example, they could be allowed to get any import while the other squads have a limit of 6-foot-9 for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. Then maybe the expansion teams could get a 6-foot-9 import when other teams are limited to 6-foot-6 for the PBA Governors’ Cup.

This handicapping rule led to the best performance of the Terrafirma franchise in the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup behind import James White. Terrafirma finished tied for the fourth spot at the end of the elimination round. 

Clearly, not all of these suggestions need to be done to help out the expansion teams get a good start, but their circumstances in 2014 have been difficult to overcome for Terrafirma and Blackwater. 

The hope is that the PBA will learn its lessons from the past decade as the entry of two new competitive teams will only help the league continue its upswing as of late.

How about you? What other ideas should be considered for the expansion teams?