PBA teams changing imports in the middle of a conference is commonplace in the league, especially when games are less and the outcomes matter more.
Currently, the Alaska Aces, Barangay Ginebra, Magnolia Hotshots, Meralco Bolts, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, and the Terrafirma Dyip are playing with the same imports since the start of the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup. The other teams have had at least one import change, with the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters and the San Miguel Beermen having cycled through three imports in this conference.
Of course, injuries to an import require a change, especially if it’s a major injury and the team wants to remain competitive for the rest of the tournament. Extraordinary circumstances such as in the case of the NLEX Road Warriors’ KJ McDaniels, who left the team to attend to the birth of his child, are also warranted.
Does a change in imports increase the chances of championship success? It depends. Four of the last five editions of the PBA Governors’ Cup saw teams win it all with only one import. Meanwhile, only one team (SMB) won the PBA Commissioners’ Cup with a single import in the last five editions of the conference, which has employed various rules regarding import height.
Recent trends from the current edition of the PBA Governors’ Cup remain mixed although there remains promise for those who have had to bring in reinforcements in this conference.
The Beermen will likely stick with third import and former NBA lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad, who has had Herculean performances in SMB’s last two wins over the Elasto Painters and the Bolts, with the win over the latter speaking volumes of his value to San Miguel. SMB needed all of Muhammad’s 57 points (on 62 percent field goal Shooting and five 3-pointers), as they rallied back from a 26-point deficit early in the third quarter to take a much-needed 115-110 win over Meralco to end the preliminary round at 7-4.
Those two stellar performances from Muhammad also erased any doubts in him replacing Orlando Johnson, who made a good account for himself despite the uncertainty in his job security.
Meanwhile, the Fuel Masters brought in Du’Vaughn Maxwell, who last played for Ukraine’s Cherkasy Monkeys and left the country last January 28, and it immediately brought a good result. Maxwell came up big in a crucial 104-99 win over the Aces, as he had 21 points, 21 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and a crucial layup with 20 seconds left in the game.
With the win, Phoenix moved to 5-5 with one more game left to play in the elimination round. They play the Bolts to close out the preliminaries and both squads won’t take this game lightly as the outcome of the contest has postseason implications. Meralco can tie the Beermen at 7-4 with a win, while Phoenix would rather take the victory and join the 6-5 logjam with Alaska, Ginebra, and potentially either the TNT Tropang Giga or Northport Batang Pier. Doing so would keep them in the thick of things in the event a playoff for a spot in the postseason is required.
The Tropang Giga, fresh off winning the Philippine Cup, started the 2021 PBA Governor’s Cup at 1-2, but went 4-2 after replacing McKenzie Moore with Aaron Fuller. They face an uphill climb to sweeping the titles for this season, but they seem to be happy with Fuller’s performance.
Meanwhile, the Hotshots, the team TNT needed to beat in last conference’s finals, have bucked the trend and stuck with former Rice University Owl Mike Harris. With their 118-91 win over the Aces, Magnolia will end the elimination round as the overall top seed regardless of the outcome in their final game against the winless Blackwater Bossing. Harris’ case as the Best Import of the Conference has solidified with each passing game and gives him confidence heading into the knockout rounds.
Import changes in the PBA wind down as the playoffs begin, but their effects reverberate even onto the postseason. While it can certainly change a team’s fortunes, the success of PBA teams continues to lie with how players both local and foreign play, and how the coaches put it all together. A seismic performance from an import certainly helps, but it takes a team to win a championship.