The Kraken is down – and with it comes huge implications for both the San Miguel Beermen and the rest of the league.
He had a pretty hectic 2019 as he helped lead the San Miguel Beermen to two championships. He was also heavily involved with the national team, helping Gilas Pilipinas secure both a World Cup berth and a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games. He also added more individual accolades, winning another BPC plum and likely his sixth straight MVP award. After a rare long break between seasons, he was poised to do more of the same in the coming season. But a freak injury in practice derailed those plans, likely ending his season before it could even start.
SMB’s Title Defense
Immediately, San Miguel’s title defense was dealt a huge blow. Even with all the questions surrounding the age of the Death Five and internal issues that led to a tumultuous end to their grand slam bid, June Mar was always a steadying presence. As Leo Austria would always say, “he [June Mar] is the strength of the team. But with him sidelined, they lose their walking mismatch especially in the Philippine Cup where his size is most prominently felt. But this doesn’t automatically knock them out of contention. The second part of Austria’s statement is that Fajardo’s strength is also the team. They still have enough firepower and personnel to be one of the top contenders. For one thing, losing Fajardo means they have no obviousnumber one option. That can make them more dangerous to play against since their points of attack will be coming from unexpected places. And with a slew of combo guard and stretch four options, you can probably expect the Beermen to play a lot faster and a little less halfcourt now that they don’t have an overwhelming size advantage anymore.
The spotlight will likely be on these two players to step up: Terrence Romeo and Mo Tautuaa. Now would be the perfect time for Romeo to be unleashed on the starting lineup after taking the challenge of leading the Beermen’s bench last season. As for Tautuaa, he is now the only legitimate center on the squad (no, Billy Mamaril doesn’t count) and will have a chance to continue to prove his worth after swapping teams with fan favorite Christian Standhardinger.
It’s a huge blow for the team but you can never count them out. Just last season they won two conferences in the unlikeliest of ways. It’s not improbable that they can pull it off again.
A Perfect Opportunity
For the rest of the league, it’s the perfect opportunity to finally get a taste of winning the Philippine Cup, arguably the most prestigious of the three conferences. Two teams in particular increased their chances: Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel. The former were runners-up in the last two editions and added even more talent to their already talented backcourt. Heck, even before June Mar’s injury, it looked like San Miguel loaded up on more guards to match up with them, lending to their threat. As for Ginebra, they look to be inspired to grab it on the backs of Stanley Pringle, who’ll face his true test trying to take over for Justin Brownlee. And they won’t feel the loss of Greg Slaughter as much since they have no Kraken to fend off. And that’s pretty much the point for the rest of the league: for years, they’ve tried to super size their lineups just to have a chance against the Beermen. Now, smallball can reign again at least for this season. That is especially true for teams that don’t typically deploy true centers (TNT KaTropa, Meralco Bolts, Phoenix Pulse Fuelmasters and Rain Or Shine Elastopainters).
Even the individual awards will be a free-for-all. Fajardo has had a hold on both the Philippine Cup BPC and MVP for six whole years. Several individual performances have gone unnoticed in that span simply because they couldn’t match June Mar’s dominance and consistency.
As for the national team, it’s tough to gauge how much his absence will affect the program, especially this year. With Gilas already reserved a spot in the 2023 World Cup, it looks like they’re going for a youth squad to train in the build-up. The impact of his injury really depends on the coach and if he actually knows how to utilize Fajardo offensively. In a way, the fact that they don’t need to qualify might be a blessing in disguise seeing as he can still rest even after returning from injury. He had a full schedule last year playing for the flag multiple times, which probably contributed to the wear and tear. Assuming he can return to his previous form (and all indications point to that being the case), he can rest easy while the Gilas program sorts itself out. He’ll always be ready to answer the call.
After everything has been done, we just hope that June Mar Fajardo can come back the same player he was before the incident. There’s enough proof to show that this type of injury isn’t career-altering. As a diehard fan, it’s both sad and exciting. Exciting in that there’s a degree of uncertainty to how the season will play out, especially for San Miguel; sad in that we won’t witness his dominance for a whole calendar year. Get well soon Kraken. The league and the fans will definitely miss you.