Everyone’s vacation is over and so is the PBA. After a six game Finals series in the Governor’s cup between the Magnolia Hotshots and the Alaska Aces, the PBA will once again dawn a new season as it opens the 2019 Philippine Cup conference.

As imbalanced the PBA might have been recently, we should always remember this. With apologies to Kyrie Irving, bilog ang mundo.

And as the new conference of Asia’s longest running pay for play league rolls through, here are five possibilities that could happen for the upcoming Philippine Cup:

CALVIN ABUEVA WINS THE BEST PLAYER OF THE CONFERENCE

If the PBA somehow introduced a new recognition come the Leo Awards – say the Most Polarizing Player – then Calvin Abueva should be its unanimous first recipient because no one has been as polarized and as disputed as The Beast for the past few years.

From his on-court antics and mind games, to his personal struggles, AWOLs that led to indefinite suspensions from his former team, and to his allegedly romantic relationship with a celebrity comedian or whatever that is, following Abueva is like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie – full of twists and turns but definitely worth watching and entertainment at its finest.

Never mind every side story of Abueva come the upcoming Philippine Cup, however, because I’m going all in for him to be one of the main stories of the league at the end of the conference with him bagging the BPC plum. The Beast has had a pretty underrated performance in the past season especially in the Governor’s cup where he led the Phoenix Fuel Masters in his first conference with the team to finish the eliminations at 8-3 good enough for the second seed before bowing out in the playoffs and posted a solid 15 points and nine rebounds in just 23 minutes of action per game and was one of the only three local players to finish the season averaging a double-double at 14.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg.

Despite the criticisms, however, I still believe that Abueva affects the game like no other (except Scottie Thompson) with his relentless energy, defensive hustle and ability to create shot opportunities either for himself or his teammates with his patented bahala kayo diyan drives to the basket. Although the top two MVP candidates from last season, Junemar Fajardo and Stanley Pringle, are still pretty much the favorites for the BPC, Abueva will overtake the two with Fajardo slightly taking a dip in his usual statistics now that SMB is loaded in all facets while edging out Pringle because of the team wins factor. The Philippine Cup will be the Beast’s reintroduction to the rest of the league. He’s still here. I expect his play to be back on top of the league’s food chain, and will once again lead Phoenix to a successful conference. A Semi-finals appearance together with his “Fire and Ice” tandem, Matthew Wright, and a BPC award doesn’t sound so bad for the Beast.

ALASKA ACES BARELY MISSES THE PLAYOFFS

Last conference, the Alaska Aces came up short in winning a championship under head coach Alex Compton for the fifth time. The Philippine Cup could possibly even be bleaker for the Aces.

The Aces are currently plagued with injuries. Their main gunner Vic Manuel was recently ruled out of the entire Philippine Cup due to back injury, while Simon Enciso, Jvee Casio and Sonny Thoss are also nursing injuries of their own.

Sure, they can rely on Chris Banchero’s elite playmaking and the defensive capabilities of the likes of Ping Exciminiano, Kevin Racal and Nonoy Baclao but the loss of Manuel will be too much to handle for the Milkmen. The Muscle Man does so much to their offense with his post up presence and ability to knock the mid-range jumper which are two of Alaska’s vital components in their offensive sets. He  also was the consistent leading local scorer for them last season in every conference. With him gone, they are pretty much voided in terms of having a constant scoring threat inside and this will result to them having difficulties against top, and even mid-tier teams. Missing the playoffs seems very likely for the proud franchise.

SCOTTIE THOMPSON CEMENTS SUPERSTAR STATUS

Ever since Scottie Thompson got drafted in 2015, the millions of fans of Barangay Ginebra have been crowning him as the future of the franchise. Well, the future is now. Already carrying three championships and a Finals MVP in his resume, Thompson has much left to prove given his potential and the caliber of a player that he is.

Widely known as an extraterrestrial that came in our planet just to show us his insane, out of this world leaping ability, and rebounding prowess, Thompson can essentially do anything on the basketball court. Add his exceptional basketball IQ, and you have a machine built to create for his team. Yet, despite all of these strengths, one flaw in his game ever since he’s made the jump from the collegiate level has been the capability to score the basketball consistently.  

I feel like a leap is coming. He’ll continue to grab rebounds and wow crowds, but he’ll start to go beyond that.

During his MVP year in the NCAA, Thompson averaged a ridiculous 26.5 points per game along with being a walking triple-double. He can be a perennial scorer if he wants and needs to. Throughout his pro career, however, Iskati never averaged more than 11 points per game and as loaded as Ginebra is, they still direly need a wing scorer without their super scoring import in Justin Brownlee and the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup should be the one to fill that void as I predict him to toy around the 14 to 15 points per game range this conference and further make him a legitimate superstar.

BLACKWATER ELITE REMAINS A PLAYOFF CONTENDER SANS JP ERRAM

During the past few conferences, the Blackwater Elite had spitfires of either undeniable miseries or surprising success and potential. A huge part of their new found success was because of the revelation of Poy Erram’s game. The gritty big man showed flashes of brilliance for Blackwater and became one of their building core pieces. Showcasing his upside on the defensive end, and the ability to convert three pointers from time to time earned him a nod for the national team under head coach Yeng Guiao.

The day after the draft, however, Blackwater dealt Erram to the NLEX Road Warriors for first round picks Paul Desiderio and Abu Tratter. The departure of Erram will certainly leave huge void in the middle for the Elite but worry not, Blackwater fans because they will be just fine for this conference. The thing is, this Blackwater team likes to shoot a lot of three pointers. They usually run pick and rolls at the top of the key and use penetration to dish out wide open three pointers for spot up shooters. Despite losing Erram, the core that they have now are fit to do just that.

Allein Maliksi is a proven scoring commodity who can become unstoppable if he’s on a roll. Mac Belo is an underrated stretch four, while Mike DiGregorio became a late revelation with his playmaking ability and spot up shooting. Roi Sumang is another spitfire guard that they can rely off the bench and the arrival of King Maroon Paul Desiderio will just add fuel to their fire as he brings added offensive versatility for the Elite. They will not finish as one of the top four teams come playoff time but they will probably finish at 6-5, good enough to buy a ticket for a quarterfinal seat.

SAN MIGUEL BEERMEN WINS FIFTH STRAIGHT PHILIPPINE CUP CHAMPIONSHIP

Nothing about this prediction is bold. This may not even be a prediction. To borrow Paul Heyman’s line: “This is not a prediction. But a SPOILER ALERT.”

Look, everyone knows that San Miguel is already a powerhouse team. Aside from their famed Fab Five in Junemar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot, they have fielded in last year’s prized rookie Christian Standhardinger. Adding in the versatile Fil-German big man was like getting the sixth infinity stone for the Beermen, and all they needed was just a snap of a finger to finally complete a grandslam. But in the two conferences they had with Standhardinger, it never happened as they fell short in both the Commissioner’s cup and Governor’s cup.

But the inevitable will come. SMB will eventually snap their fingers, as they aim to defend their Philippine Cup championship this year. With coach Leo Austria — might as well call him Thanos — already holding the six infinity stones in his gauntlet, the multi-titled coach just got a lot more powerful as San Miguel acquired scoring machine Terrence Romeo in a trade this offseason and create probably the deepest team in league history.

Just ignore every the statistics and the standings at the end of the eliminations. Because when the Finals rolls around, even if an underdog Avengers squad assembles and puts up a gallant fight, the inevitable is bound to happen. Austria will snap his finger and his Beermen will capture that elusive perpetual trophy for the fifth straight year.