The TNT Katropa went through many changes in the 2016-17 PBA season as they tried to find the balance between getting younger and staying competitive. They installed a new head coach and traded away a couple of long time players and managed to remain championship threats.
2016-17 overall record
Philippine Cup: 6-5 (4th), Lost 4-3 to SMB in the SF
Commissioner’s Cup: 8-3 (4th), Lost 4-2 to SMB in the Finals
Governors’ Cup: 8-3 (2nd), Lost 41 to Ginebra in the Semifinals
The TNT KaTropa entered the season by installing a new head coach in Nash Racela. Immediately, the young coach tried to instill a new philosophy to the franchise. Although they still ran a familiar system, the division of minutes was drastically different as Racela wanted it evened out between the youngsters and the veterans.
There was an initial resistance from some of the vets who could not understand why they were only playing about 20 minutes when their legs could still give them more than 30 per game but the doubts slowly melted away as the wins started to come.
The KaTropa looked like they would be the biggest threat to the three-peat seeking San Miguel Beermen in the Philippine Cup and it was close to happening after they took a 3-2 lead in their semifinal encounter. However, like they’ve done so many times in the past, the Beermen managed to get wins when it mattered the most as they eliminated TNT.
TNT ran into early trouble in the Commissioner’s Cup as their initial import Denzel Bowles was sent home before playing a single game due to his attitude. They hired former NBA player Lou Amundson and Donte Greene but also knew that they would need size to contend as the path to the title will have to go through SMB at some point.
They found the perfect fit in Joshua Smith who gave them size, toughness, and an inside scorer but an unfortunate injury disallowed them from giving SMB a bigger challenge in the finals.
To close out the season, TNT chose the stocky Michael Craig who helped them get a 2-1 start to the conference but the franchise gambled on an undoubtedly talented player whose attitude has been questioned in the past.
It was easy to understand TNT’s decision to get Glen Rice Jr. The kind of scoring talent he has can win championships and a wing scorer was more usable for TNT with other imports also being under 6-foot-5. Rice was often amazing when he was on the floor, the problem was keeping him in there.
In Game 2 against Ginebra, Rice was in foul trouble for much of the game as he played only 23 minutes. In Game 4 against the Kings, he was ejected from the game after just 10 minutes. TNT fought gallantly but in the end their all-Filipino crew ran out of steam as they bowed out of the tournament against the title favorites.
What do they need?
TNT proved that they were not shy about trading away players that have helped them win championships in the past. Larry Fonacier landed with NLEX and Ranidel De Ocampo was shipped to Meralco this season. This should be a clear sign that no one in the roster is safe as the KaTropa continue to look for ways to win another PBA title.
They’ll have a couple of picks (their own and SMB’s) in the upcoming 2017 PBA Rookie Draft but both will be late in the first round and it’s unlikely that they will get game-changing players there.
TNT could use a legitimate center. They don’t need scoring from a big man but they’ll definitely benefit from a rim-protector. As for the other positions, TNT does not need much. Maybe another small forward beside Anthony Semerad but that’s about it. Jayson Castro and RR Pogoy will play most of the minutes at the guard sports. Kelly Williams has apparently found the fountain of youth as he continues to be one of the best power forwards in the league and Troy Rosario continues to gain invaluable experience that will make him a more well-rounded player.
They should definitely get Smith for the Commissioner’s Cup again and just hope he stays healthy for the entire tournament. As for the Governors’ Cup, it’s highly unlikely that Rice will get another chance after taking himself out of Game 4 and disrespecting TNT Governor Pato Gregorio.
The problem with TNT is that they don’t have a great track record of finding good imports in the third conference. In the past two editions of the Governors’ Cup, they’ve enlisted Steffphon Pettigrew, Mario Little, and Mychal Ammons, imports who might never get another shot at returning to the PBA.
However, looking at the Philippine Cup first, it sure seems like TNT will be ready to contend from Day 1, especially if RR Garcia is healthy. The way their locals competed against Ginebra with Justin Brownlee getting almost 50 points is a great sign for them moving forward. Finishing the season with two semis and one finals stints is not bad but being “not bad” was never the goal for TNT. They’re out to be the best team in the league so don’t be surprised if they pull off big moves in the off season.
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