The once proud franchise of the Star Hotshots is going through a rough patch.
With their failure to qualify for the quarterfinals of the 2016 Governor’s Cup, the Hotshots will be missing the playoff round for the first time this season under rookie coach Jason Webb.
The fans have voiced their sentiments through various social media platforms that Star needs to make a change during the offseason.
So, what could possibly be the change that the Star Hotshots might need to consider?
The Star Hotshots have won championships (and a lot of mileage) from their aging veteran core of Marc Pingris, James Yap and PJ Simon.
Their last successful run together was during their Grand Slam season in 2013-2014 where the team, then known as San Mig Coffee, won four straight championships.
Of course, that was more than two years ago and things are vastly different today.
The departure of coach Tim Cone has definitely contributed to Star’s decline in some ways. But we’ll go through that topic in a while.
But as it is, the Star trio of Pingris, Yap and Simon are getting up there in age (Pingris and Yap are now 34, while Simon 36). They are not in their prime anymore and naturally, their production and effectiveness have dropped.
Since it’s impossible to defy Father Time, team management definitely needs to make a decision, particularly during the offseason what steps they need to take to start the transition.
In fact, the offseason might be a good opportunity to try a new and much younger “Big 3”.
Assuming that the Star Hotshots do not go into full rebuilding mode where they trade or drop a big chunk of their team, their current roster can actually form a new Big 3 with RR Garcia, Mark Barroca and Allein Maliksi (or Ian Sangalang).
The oldest one in that new trio is Barroca (30) and he could serve as the new leader and new face of the franchise.
And probably, the question is: “What will the Star Hotshots do with Yap and Co.?”
Well, Star can still keep them around, but in a rather limited capacity because the younger players should get more minutes. In fact, Yap, Pingris and Simon can serve as mentors to the younger players in the team.
However, such a tactic is not beneficial to both parties. The best scenario might be to find trade partners who are willing to give draft picks in return. Their fans won’t like this, but it might be best for Yap, Pingris and Simon to simply move on to other teams or retire in their own terms.
Change is coming (again)
Two-time Grand Slam coach Tim Cone’s move to sister team Barangay Ginebra at the start of the 2016 season was not a popular decision, particularly for Hotshots fans.
But we all know that Cone’s transfer to the league’s most popular ballclub was a decision made by top-level management.
Cone’s departure paved the way for Jason Webb to assume the head coaching post, an unenviable position that’s for sure since he came in basically as a rookie coach.
Well, things didn’t work out as planned or expected.
The Star Hotshots are having a tumultuous season and they will end up with their worst cumulative record in the last 12 years.
Moreover, there have been reports of disgruntled and unhappy players.
Some examples of discontent cited lack of minutes, minimal shot opportunities, poor in-game adjustments and ineffective game plans.
Plus, there’s also the problem that the coach was unable to fully earn the respect of the entire team.
Apparently, there are those within the team who questioned Webb’s readiness and competency as a head coach. In short, the coach (unfairly?) received and absorbed a lot of the blame for the collective struggles of the team. It is a lot easier to fire and change coaches than to trade/drop players with active contracts.
Therefore, it is a no-brainer that the Star Hotshots will certainly replace Webb with someone else for the next season.
A new coach and a different voice is needed in practice and in the locker room.
Hopefully, a coach that the players will trust and have their utmost confidence. So, who would be ideal candidates? Perhaps, a head coach that is more seasoned and more experienced in the PBA. Plus, championship experience matters the most.
I tried to come up with at least five names who used to be head coaches in the league and they also won at least one title as the guy in charge: Ryan Gregorio, Allan Caidic, Luigi Trillo, Siot Tanquingcen and Ato Agustin.
Now, some of them might have contracts with other teams or are busy with other endeavors, so it would be up to Star management to convince one of them to coach the team.
More new blood
As I mentioned earlier, the Star Hotshots will end the season with one of their worst cumulative records in a long time. While that is extremely disappointing, their poor record should give them a high draft pick for the coming PBA draft in October.
The Star Hotshots will most probably be in the top 4 when it comes to drafting in the first round. This would be the best opportunity to draft a player that would help reshape the franchise.
Furthermore, the Hotshots should continue to use their remaining picks to infuse young and new blood into their lineup. Remember, change can be good.
Now, team management should make sure that they have the patience to stick with their drafted players. Don’t just give rookies one conference or a few games to show their worth.
Drafting is an investment for the future. Hence, give the players some time and a chance to learn the ropes and grow with the team. They should avoid trading their rookies (or new players) within the year unless they are getting proven players in return who are ideally better than the traded players.
Aside from getting new players through the draft, team management should also actively pursue ways to utilize trades or sign free agents.
The Star Hotshots nickname or brand has not brought the franchise success since their name change in 2014. It might be time to replace the current brand and bring back the name Purefoods, preferably as the Tender Juicy Hotdogs or go back to San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, their Grand Slam brand.
The name change has nothing to do with the basketball played on the court but shedding the name of something that was unsuccessful might have positive psychological effects on the team. The new name also gets rid of the bad luck associated with that brand.
Sometimes, a new name and a new identity can revive the campaign of a team or simply help change its fortunes. In this case, changing the name might be a big help. What’s the worst thing that can happen with that right?
Most recently, changing names and going back to an original brand worked. Take for example San Miguel Beer, which replaced the name Petron Blaze Boosters.
Since the name change, SMB won three titles starting in the 2015 Philippine Cup.
The Purefoods franchise is hoping that the same good fortune will occur to their team.
Selling the franchise?
Admittedly, selling the franchise is most probably not going to happen. The Star Hotshots are still among the most popular teams in the PBA.
However, trading some of their stars will hurt their marketability which can result to lower revenues and fewer tickets sold when they play.
Losing a popular player might also affect the promotion of their brand, thus, sales might slow down.
Now, I am not privy to information regarding the financial status of a franchise. So, I am not sure if they are making or losing money.
But, if their team continues to languish near the bottom of the standings and fail to reach the playoffs or win more titles, then, the team will most probably lose its appeal to fans.
When that happens, then it becomes possible for the franchise to consider selling or maybe merging with a more popular brand/team.
The PBA will always have other owners, who are willing to join or buy existing franchises. Thus, it is not a stretch to see the Star Hotshots being sold to another group or company.
Keep the Status Quo
Lastly, the Star Hotshots used to be successful with Yap and Co.
If management is able to find the right head coach, who could maximize the current roster and steer Star back to prominence, perhaps, the core could be kept as the Hotshots try to regain their once lofty billing in the league.
But let’s face it, keeping the status quo with regards to their lineup is the easiest decision. They just need to re-sign players with expiring contracts at an ideally reasonable price tag.
By keeping the stars, team management will also avoid negative feedback and backlash from the team’s loyal fans.
It’s also possible that Yap, Pingris and Simon plus the rest of the team, can use the offseason to recharge, assess what happened in the team’s latest failed campaign and try to come out stronger next season.
There’s always that possibility even if it is unlikely.
Additionally, improving as a team next season should not be too difficult because they performed awful this season. So, it should be relatively easier to show improvement next season by simply garnering more wins and qualifying for the playoffs.
– Rolly Mendoza is a regular opinion writer and contributor for FOX Sports
You can follow him at his official Twitter account: @rollzter