Basketball

Lassiter deal reminds of Talk ‘N Text trade for Williams, Reyes

AKTV/Paul Ryan Tan

A PBA squad a blockbuster trade to bring in star players from another team. A few months later, the company that owns the first team purchases the PBA franchise of the second.

Sound familiar?

At first glance, the scenario could apply to Petron Blaze, which has submitted a trade to the PBA that will bring in Powerade star rookie Marcio Lassiter in exchange for Noy Baclao and Rey Guevarra. San Miguel Corporation, which owns the Boosters, is rumored to be buying the Tigers’ PBA franchise. The Philippine Daily Inquirer last week reported that the deal for the purchase is done, a story that has been denied by Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., which owns the Powerade team.

The PBA prohibits direct trading between two teams owned by the same company.

But the scenario actually describes a trade in the PBA’s recent past. Two years ago, the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters acquired Sta. Lucia Realtors star players Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes in a controversial deal.

A few months later, Sta. Lucia sold its PBA franchise to Meralco, which is controlled by the Manuel V. Pangilinan group that also owns Talk ‘N Text.

InterAKTV is part of InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5, which is chaired by Pangilinan.

Williams for SMART-Gilas

Interest of the Tropang Texters in Williams, the 2008 PBA Most Valuable Player, began in earnest when the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas coach Rajko Toroman expressed his desire for the high-flying forward to play for the national team. Like Talk ‘N Text, SMART-Gilas was also bankrolled by Pangilinan.

The SMART-Gilas interest in Williams became a topic of debate among members of the PBA Board of Governors. According to then-PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios, a PBA team was not allowed to trade Williams directly to SMART-Gilas, since the national squad was not part of the league. For the player to become part of the national team, Williams had to be dealt to another squad that would then lend him to SMART-Gilas.

On May 12, 2010, the Tropang Texters closed a three-team, nine-player deal that gave them Williams and Reyes, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, along with Charles Waters, Williams’ brother-in-law. The Realtors received Ali Peek, Nic Belasco, Pong Escobal, and a first round draft pick from the Tropang Texters. The third team in the deal, Barako Coffee, sent Yousif Aljamal and Ogie Menor to Sta. Lucia, and received Mark Isip from the Realtors in return.

On its way out

At the time of the transaction, speculation was rife that Sta. Lucia was on its way out of the league. Earlier that season, the team began to trade key members of its 2007-08 PBA Philippine Cup champion squad. Team captain Dennis Espino was shipped to the Coca-Cola Tigers, while crack guards Denok Miranda and Joseph Yeo were traded to the San Miguel Beermen.

Business had not been going well for Sta. Lucia; in 2008, Business World reported that Sta. Lucia Land, Inc., the company’s listed real estate firm, lost P251.13 million from January to September that year and was undergoing corporate restructuring amid the global financial crisis. It only made sense for the company to let go of its PBA franchise, which was paying millions of pesos in salary to its star basketball players.

After trading Williams and Reyes, Sta. Lucia’s longtime team manager Buddy Encarnado was emotional. “Sad as it may be, and I say this with a heavy heart, this is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my entire career in the PBA,” Encarnado told Malaya on the day of the trade.

“But it’s beyond me, the players or the team. There are decisions that had to be made beyond the team and I’ve never backed out from these decisions,” he added. “For the good of the players and team, this is the best possible thing that can happen to the two, under the circumstances.”

A day after the trade, Talk ‘N Text executive Ricky Vargas denied that the MVP group was buying Sta. Lucia.

“If Talk ‘N Text, PLDT or any company will buy a franchise, it will go through a process. Taking over Sta. Lucia is not true,” Vargas told the Manila Bulletin.

Barely two weeks later, then-Meralco chairman Manolo Lopez announced in the company’s stockholders meeting that the power utility was looking at buying a PBA team. The company used to sponsor a powerhouse squad in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association, the precursor to the PBA, the Meralco Reddy Kilowatts, bannered by Robert Jaworski. The Philippine Star reported that Meralco was negotiating with Sta. Lucia for the possible sale.

On August 10, 2010, the PBA board unanimously approved the sale of the Realtors to Meralco.

‘Not similar’

But Ramon Segismundo, Meralco’s representative to the PBA board, bristles at the suggestion that the case of Meralco buying Sta. Lucia is similar to that of SMC buying Powerade.

“It is not similar. Sta. Lucia was in a different phase of development of its franchise,” wrote Segismundo in a text message to InterAKTV, adding that marquee players such as Yeo and Miranda were traded from the Realtors to the Beermen prior to the sale.

Talk ‘N Text coach Chot Reyes, responding to a question from a Twitter follower if his team’s trade for Williams and Reyes was fair, simply replied: “We gave up Peek, Belasco, and a couple of first round picks.”

Encarnado, for his part, explained that there were special circumstances surrounding the sale of the Sta. Lucia team.

“Usually, you have to [serve] notice [to the PBA] of a planned sale a year before,” he wrote in a text message. “But it’s circumstantial; for example, if your business is having a problem, hihintayin mo pa ba yung one year bago ka gumawa ng action?”

A source from the Talk ‘N Text camp added that if the team hadn’t traded for Williams and Reyes, Sta. Lucia would have dealt them to an SMC team just like it did with Yeo and Miranda. The source also pointed out that Powerade, unlike Sta. Lucia, is coming off a championship run and had not been trading its marquee players during the season.

Talk ‘N Text transformed

But regardless of the circumstances, the entry of Williams and Reyes into the Talk ‘N Text fold correlated with the Tropang Texters’ transformation into a powerhouse team. After the trade, Talk ‘N Text embarked on a 13-game winning streak in the 2010 Fiesta Conference, although it lost to the Alaska Aces in a tight seven-game semifinal series in the tournament.

Since then, the Tropang Texters have been the class of the PBA. Talk ‘N Text has made four straight championship appearances, winning three titles in that period.

And a big part of that has been the performance of Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes, the two best players of the Sta. Lucia Realtors. – with reporting from Reynaldo Belen and Mikkel Bolante.

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