2021 PBA Trade Grades: The rich get richer, the dark horses load up

This PBA offseason has been surprisingly eventful, despite the pandemic putting a halt to almost every other aspect of the league. A lot of deals have occurred over the last few months, and it’s easy to lose track of what each deal means for all the teams in the Association. Nine out of the league’s 12 teams made moves before the PBA Draft this coming weekend.

That’s what we’re here for in SLAM PH. Below, you will find grades for each team involved in deals and you will find comprehensive breakdowns of their respective acquisitions and losses. They’ve also been divided according to which tier they’re in the overall scheme in the league.

Let the fun begin!  

Photo from PBA Media

The Young Upstarts

Terrafirma Dyip

Received: Russel Escoto, Matthew Ganuelas-Rosser, Gelo Alolino, SMB 2020 and 2022 1st Rd Picks

Lost: CJ Perez

Grade: F

Blackwater Bossing

Received: Baser Amer, Bryan Faundo, David Semerad, Simon Enciso, TNT 2023 1st Rd and 2024 2nd Rd Picks

Lost: Mac Belo, Don Trollano, Roi Sumang, Maurice Shaw,

Grade: D

Alaska Aces

Received: Brian Heruela, PHX 2020 1st Rd Pick (No. 6 Pick) and 2nd Rd Pick (No. 4 Pick), 2021 1st Rd Pick

Lost: Vic Manuel, ALA 2020 1st Rd Pick (No.7) and 2nd Rd Pick (No. 7)

Grade: B+

Northport Batang Pier

Received: Greg Slaughter

Lost: Christian Standhardinger

Grade: C+

NLEX Road Warriors

Received: Don Trollano, Maurice Shaw, Roi Sumang, BWB 2022 2nd Rd Pick

Lost: NLEX 2020 1st Rd Pick (No. 4)

Grade: B+

Photo from PBA Media

There are two types of young upstarts: the confusing, troubled kids who don’t get proper guidance from their elders, and the raw but promising students who take the right steps towards success.

In this trade season, there are four teams you can categorize as the teenagers in the PBA. First up, the former of the two categories we mentioned above: the Terrafirma Dyip and the Blackwater Bossing (Yup, you read that right!)

Terrafirma trading away CJ Perez is downright unacceptable. To trade him away for the package they received back is insulting the intelligence of PBA fans. While Escoto and Alolino have shown promise and Ganuelas-Rosser has had his moments, Perez is a championship-level piece who could even be a cornerstone if surrounded by the right pieces. Basketball is won by superstars and Terrafirma just traded away their biggest one yet. That’s like missing out on all your Long Tests in class; you’re getting an automatic F. No questions asked.

Then there’s Blackwater, whose move to trade Mac Belo away for Baser Amer was considered confusing by most PBA fans. The team’s already filled with plenty of playmakers. From the physical Ed Daquioag to the slithery Mike Tolomia, the Bossing already had versatile options to help jumpstart their offense. Baser Amer isn’t a bad player by any means, but he doesn’t add as much to this group compared to a talent like Mac Belo.

They then added another guard in Simon Enciso and further gave up front court depth by giving away Don Trollano and Maurice Shaw. The draft assets they received won’t help them fill in the spots that opened up in the immediate future. Overall, their moves have been head-scratching to say the least.

The promising student among this bunch is the Alaska Aces, who despite losing their best player last conference in Vic Manuel, received a package that further established their youth movement. After year of mediocrity, they’re finally embracing the rebuild, and they’re taking the right steps with these recent trades. That’s two first round picks in two draft classes with high-impact players, and a second round pick in a 2020 draft class that’s arguably the deepest in recent league history. Losing a talent like Manuel is never easy, but for this rebuild to truly commence, it was necessary. Alaska’s drinking their milk, taking their vitamins, and saying their prayers as they executed these moves. They’re taking the right steps. It’s now a matter of waiting for these to bear fruit in the future.

The Road Warriors have always had the top-level talent to be a contender. What was missing last year was the necessary depth needed to support their star players. By dealing their first round pick, they covered a lot of the holes that caused them to stumble and fall in the Bubble last year.

The biggest acquisition here is easily Don Trollano, the former Gilas forward who’s embodied the word “glue guy” his whole career. He is the perfect partner beside Kiefer Ravena, Kevin Alas, and Jericho Cruz, because he can help those three scorers fill in other holes with his hustle, versatility on both ends of the floor, and high basketball IQ.

Roi Sumang is also a solid get by the Road Warriors. You can never have enough creation and scoring talent, and Sumang provides just that. He will provide spitfire scoring and playmaking, and his fit beside Jericho Cruz off the bench should be intriguing. You can’t complain about getting more talent.

Maurice Shaw is the high-risk, high-reward acquisition in this lot. If he figures things out, NLEX just found their solution to the big man problems they’ve had since losing JP Erram. If he struggles, the search for an elite big continues for them.

Finally, there’s our last teenager who doesn’t fit into either of our categories. They’re that kid who’s unsure of who they are. They’re just okay with no clear direction towards excellence or towards a rebuilt. Meet the Northport Batang Pier.

Trading away Christian Standhardinger is certainly a loss for the Batang Pier, but getting back Greg Slaughter is nothing to scoff at. Slaughter, despite his struggles, still provided value during his time with the Gin Kings. A change of scenery and being paired with the talented, returning Robert Bolick, could prove huge for the seven-footer’s comeback in the PBA.

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The Dark Horses

Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters

Received: Chris Banchero, MAG 2020 1st and 2nd Rd Picks, Vic Manuel, ALA 2020 1st Rd Pick (No.7) and 2nd Rd Pick (No. 7)

Lost: Calvin Abueva and PHX 2020 1st Rd. Pick

Grade: A

Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang

Received: Calvin Abueva and PHX 2020 1st Rd. Pick

Lost: Chris Banchero, MAG 2020 1st and 2nd Rd Picks

Grade: A

Meralco Bolts

Received: Mac Belo

Lost: Baser Amer, Bryan Faundo

Grade: B+

TNT Tropang GIGA

Received: NLEX 2020 1st Rd Pick (No. 4)

Lost: Simon Enciso, David Semerad, TNT 2023 1st Rd Pick, TNT 2024 2nd Rd Pick

Grade: B+

Photo from PBA Media

With their respective trades, the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters and the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok streamlined their rosters. They’ve improved by losing some stars and replacing them with pieces who fit their overall construction better.

Losing Calvin Abueva is certainly painful for the Fuel Masters, but they needed to do it so they could clean up their frontcourt. While Abueva was phenomenal during their semifinal run last year, there was certainly discomfort with his overall fit with Jason Perkins and Justin Chua. Abueva is a physical wing who needs space to operate at his best. Perkins and Chua may have been capable shooters but having those three players together limited the upside of Phoenix.

By trading him away for Chris Banchero, the Fuel Masters now have a lineup that makes more sense on paper. Banchero offers plenty of playmaking, just like Abueva. What he lacks in physicality, however, is made up by his ability to shoot and space the floor. Banchero is the perfect glue guy for this Phoenix squad. This team has a lot of physicality and firepower from both ends of the floor. As a guard capable of playing both spots, he’s the piece that ties them together with his versatility.

Vic Manuel is an intriguing addition for the Fuel Masters. If Banchero plugged in the playmaking hole Abueva left out, Manuel adds even more physicality to an already buff Phoenix frontcourt. With Manuel, Coach Topex is given plenty of options with his lineups. He can pair any of Chua, Perkins, and Manuel together because they’re all so skilled on both ends of the floor.

With this trade, TNT said, “Screw it. Screw the depth. We’re going all-in by taking advantage of this incredible draft and the depth it offers.” Losing Bobby Ray Parks Jr. hurt them. They needed to make a move that was win now, and this was a good attempt at doing that.

Even though Joshua Munzon and Jamie Malonzo are expected to be off the board by the time TNT’s picking, the Tropang GIGA still have their options. Former NBA G League standout Mikey Williams can easily slot-in to the hole BRP left, while Calvin Oftana is a college MVP with the talent to be a star and the skill to fit into any team.

We haven’t even mentioned the likes of Larry Muyang, Alvin Pasaol, and Santi Santillan. This is a deep draft with talent that’s ready to contribute now and upside that will keep franchises afloat for quite some time. This was a good start at bouncing back for the Tropang GIGA.

The Phoenix LPG Fuel Masters have gone all-in. Anything less than a Finals appearance will be a disappointment for this group.

The Hotshots are also big winners by acquiring Abueva. Banchero provided plenty of value for Magnoli, but the problem was, he couldn’t provide the size and physicality the group needed from the wing position. They were consistently burned by elite forwards from opposing squads.

By replacing Banchero with Abueva, the Hotshots retain the versatility Banchero provided, while adding the physicality and athleticism they sorely lacked in the bubble. His ability to rebound and hustle for the ball will fit the finesse and length of Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis respectively, while his playmaking will provide more scoring opportunities for the fiery Paul Lee and Jio Jalalon.

Abueva is an elite talent. Acquiring him is a big win for any squad. But to be placed in a situation that fits his talent to the fullest? Don’t be surprised if The Beast starts receiving MVP buzz during any point of the upcoming season.

The Meralco Bolts also come out as winners this trade season. More than the present gains, acquiring Belo is intriguing because of his potential for the future. Belo’s never been coached by someone of Norman Black’s caliber. How he’s utilized by the PBA legend will be something to watch out for.

But the most interesting piece of this trade is the fact that they traded away Baser Amer, the player who had been pegged as the point guard of Meralco’s future for the longest time. The move signifies their intent to move on and to give the reins to the Bolts’ offense to their Blue Eagle-duo of Chris Newsome and Aaron Black. Both wings are physical, skilled, and athletic. They embody the versatility and toughness this Bolts team showcased in the Bubble last season.

These dark horses became better, there’s no doubt about that. But the PBA championship still goes through the last two teams in this list.

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The Title Contenders

San Miguel Beermen

Received: CJ Perez

Lost: Russel Escoto, Matthew Ganuelas-Rosser, Gelo Alolino, SMB 2020 and 2022 1st Rd Picks

Grade: In Contention for Valedictorian

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel

Received: Christian Standhardinger

Lost: Greg Slaughter

Grade: In Contention for Valedictorian

Photo from PBA Media

In a cut-throat environment, your A’s and B pluses don’t matter if you can’t get the biggest prize of them all. The PBA cultivates such an environment. PBA teams (ideally) aim for championships, and at this point, our two top contenders boosted their chances at winning even more. The dark horses made huge strides with their deals, but these teams are the richest of them all and they gained even more property.

It sounds boring to dig deep into dynasties, but there’s reason to be interested with the move of these two teams. More than the clear addition of talent, their respective acquisitions showcased their respective contrast in styles.

The San Miguel Beermen look to bounce back after a disappointing Bubble season, and they loaded up their versatility and firepower even more by acquiring CJ Perez. This isn’t just a pure talent acquisition. Perez’s talent perfectly fits what’s made the Beermen so terrifying these last six years. Their offense is close to unstoppable and the Baby Beast adds even more fuel to this machine.

Perez gives San Miguel another super scorer who can create for himself. If there’s something the 2021 Brooklyn Nets has taught us, having too many creators doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. But even more important is how being with his new the team allows Perez to showcase more of his versatility.

In the Dyip, Perez was forced to be their primary creator. While he was more than capable, boxing him in this role limited his value. That’s no longer the case with the Beermen. He’s in a team filled with playmakers (Terrence Romeo, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross) and the league’s premier magnet for creating space (June Mar Fajardo). Expect him to play the Gabe Norwood role and be all over the floor, at his best when operating off the ball. There are going to be some fun, explosive nights with this San Miguel group once they get Fajardo back on the court.

It’s the opposite for the Gin Kings. Adding Standhardinger wasn’t for their scoring. Instead, it was Ginebra leaning into their identity as a team that drags you to the ground and pounds you to submission.

Ginebra, despite their talent, is at their best when they make games ugly. Ginebra games are exciting, but they are often an eyesore for the fan who wants beautiful basketball. That’s not a bad thing because it leads to wins and Standhardinger’s play fits this style the Gin Kings cultivate.

Granted, there will be some challenges in terms of offensive fit. The Aguilar-Standhardinger dynamic will be interesting watch since both of them prefer to get their buckets from the inside. On the defensive end, Standhardinger has had tendencies to gamble a lot on defense.

But you can’t complain about adding more talent to an already loaded core. The fit will follow. What matters for Ginebra is Standhardinger’s innate gifts and how his style can complement Ginebra’s play in some respects. And of course, if there’s a coach who can figure this out, it’s Tim Cone. He’s a master at adjusting to his talent and there’s no reason to believe he won’t figure this puzzle out.