2011-12 PBA preview: Can Cardona and Mercado coexist at Meralco?

PBA/Nuki Sabio

Coach: Ryan Gregorio
Assistants: Ronnie Magsanoc, Boyet Fernandez, Patrick Fran, Xavi Nunag
Lineup: Chris Timberlake, Sol Mercado, Asi Taulava, Nelbert Omolon, Mark Yee, Yousif Aljamal, Gabby Espinas, Mark Isip, Mac Cardona, Gilbert Bulawan, Jason Ballesteros, Chico Lanete, Mark Macapagal, Bryan Faundo

Offseason Review: The injury bug bit Meralco hard, as Chris Ross and Reynel Hugnatan are still recuperating. Sol Mercado will also miss several games due to a torn meniscus injury.

The good news for Meralco is that Mac Cardona will be back from a calf injury that sidelined him for most of the second half of last season.

Coach Ryan Gregorio is also bringing in reinforcements in the frontcourt, with rookies Jason Ballesteros and Gilbert Bulawan and free agent Bryan Faundo joining the team. Enforcer Mark Yee, sharpshooter Mark Macapagal, and backup point guard Chico Lanete were also acquired by Meralco to provide stability for the second-year franchise.

Asi Taulava, fresh off a stint with the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national squad, will be rejoining the Bolts.

Outlook: In the Philippine Cup last season, Meralco cruised to a surprising fifth-place finish, with Cardona carrying the brunt of the work. “Of our seven wins [in the all-Filipino conference], Macmac was singlehandedly responsible for five of them,” said Gregorio.

Cardona had a good thing going with backcourt mate Chris Ross, a big, strong point guard who could cover for Captain Hook on defense while setting up the offense. So it was a big gamble when, midway through the season, the Bolts traded for Sol Mercado, a volume-shooting guard who, like Cardona, needs the ball in his hands to be effective.

Cardona and Mercado didn’t see much court time together last season because of injuries, so their partnership still remains a big question mark. While his backcourt colleagues are still injured, expect Cardona to go all out once more and carry the team on his shoulders.

But when Mercado comes back, Gregorio is going to have to figure out how to fit him in with Cardona. Without Ross around, there’s no one on the team who could play the distributors’ role for the two scorers.

If Cardona and Mercado develop a chemistry — think Helterbrand and Caguioa at their best — then they just might be (pardon the pun) the best backcourt in the league. But if they couldn’t play well together, then it’s a recipe for disaster for Meralco.

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