Oct. 18, 2016
Loyalty Swap: Why the James Yap trade needed to happen
So I have my Game Six predictions uploaded and I’m pretty much waiting for whatever shit the 2016 PBA Special Draft has in store for us fans (I hate the Special Draft, by the way).
So now for the task at hand – James Yap leaving Purefoods.
I know the team is called the Star Hotshots. But even if they won their grand slam using the San Mig Coffee brand, this franchise will always be associated with the hotdog product that Alvin Patrimonio helped launch. So I’m calling Purefoods/B-Meg/San Mig Coffee/Star as simply Purefoods.
So it’s been more than a week since that horrendous bombshell. Fans, teammates, and foes are shocked with how Yap’s stint with the franchise ended. Big Game James is the face of the franchise. He won two Most Valuable Player awards and had countless All-Star appearances, championships, and other individual accolades due to his association with the squad. James Yap was bound to retire alongside Marc Pingris and Peter June Simon but sadly... it wasn’t meant to be.
Here’s the thing – it takes two to tango.
This season is by far James Yap’s worst PBA season and it came in an opportune time when Purefoods is also experiencing their worst season (since they drafted Yap second in the 2004 PBA Draft). After losing Tim Cone and eventually Joe Devance to Ginebra, Purefoods has lost their winning edge. The team hired neophyte coach Jason Webb to run the show but instead of the former Tanduay guard helping him regain his past awesomeness, Yap just let Allein Maliksi and eventually RR Garcia upstage him.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Webb is a bad coach. But I am not saying he’s a good coach either. There were instances that he was able to send his message across to his players but for most of the time, it felt as if he just doesn’t have their respect. When Webb was named coach of the squad, I thought one of his first calls was to trade away a fraction of The Big Three. It will be hard for Webb to administer his authority with the Yap, Pingris, and Simon around. Purefoods’ alpha males had gone to wars with undoubtedly the best PBA coach in history. Tim Cone is such a tough act to follow and I’m kind of surprised the management never saw this coming. Webb stumbled to find his bearing. He failed to claim wins despite the presence of former PBA Best Imports Denzel Bowles and Marqus Blakely. And even if Webb had managed to change the pawns of the franchise, it did nothing to the squad’s new direction. Even the young “old” hands like Mark Barroca, Alex Mallari, Justin Melton, and Ian Sangalang had so-so outputs.
And if you remember Cone's first season, one of his first moves was to leave Roger Yap on the bench so Barroca could flourish. And then Cone would trade Yap's original tag team partner Kerby Raymundo to Ginebra in a deal that also involved... you guessed it... Barako Bull.
This foresight is what separates Cone from the rest.
Last season, it felt as if Yap has other things in his mind. When Yap won his second MVP title, he used basketball as an outlet to escape his off-court troubles. Sure, Yap is battling injuries throughout the current season... but it didn’t help that he’s finally living awesomely outside basketball. Now I don’t blame the guy... but clearly Yap isn’t the Boy Thunder we thought he still was.
Yap has never averaged in single digits since debuting in the PBA. But in his last three seasons, he was able to break his scoring season low time and time again. And even when Cone was at helm, it felt as if James Yap underperformed. If you compare his numbers when he had Ryan Gregorio as coach, you’ll find that his numbers aren’t as good. Yap tends to coast during the elimination round and just unleashes his scoring awesomeness during the semis or the finals. If you don’t believe my last sentence, then look up his past numbers. It’s either Mark Barroca or Peter June Simon leading the team in scoring during the elimination round only to give way to Yap in the finals.
So it’s not like Yap never saw this coming. Even at the start of the season, trade rumors surrounding Yap swirled. There is even that move to send him to Mahindra for the second pick overall of the 2015 PBA Draft that turned out to be Troy Rosario. If the Hotshots went ahead of this trade, then they could just have Rosario teaming with Pingris, Jake Pascual, and Sangalang up front with Simon, Maliksi, and Mallari at the shooter and slasher spots. Instead of picking Norbert Torres, the Hotshots could have just claimed a starting small forward or a backup point guard like Arthur dela Cruz and Simon Enciso.
Now that could have been a team to lead Star’s new era.
Diehard Purefoods and James Yap fans in general are livid. They should. But take Miami Heat for example. Despite the contributions of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – and the fact that they remained loyal when Lebron James returned to Cleveland – they either left because he’s not worth the money he’s asking (Wade) or got stricken off because they thought he is deadweight (Bosh). You can hate Pat Riley for his actions but at the end of the day, he is still just doing his job. Yap could be loyal to Purefoods... but can the franchise still rely on him to bring the team again to the top?
The insertion of Paul Lee to the Hotshots will make the team stronger. The entry of Chito Victolero will also change the landscape of the squad (Webb is now the team's consultant). Victolero used a guard-heavy lineup when he “pseudo” called the shots as chief assistant to Manny Pacquiao at Mahindra. He’ll probably have Garcia, Lee, Simon, Melton, and Barroca team up with Pingris or Sangalang, Pascual, and Rodney Brondial. Meanwhile, Jericho Cruz or Maverick Ahanmisi could start as scoring point guard for Rain or Shine with Yap and Jeff Chan feuding for the starting off-guard spot. The return of the scoring version of Gabe Norwood could star at small forward with Jay Washington, Beau Belga, and Raymond Almazan rotating at the four and five spots.
No question, Purefoods will retire James Yap’s number when Yap decides to hang up his jersey. I don’t know if he’s bound for an office job in the near future but they could use him for basketball camps and out-of-town sorties.
But right now it’s best for both sides to part.
Perhaps the trade will be his reality check to prove to the naysayers that Big Game James has more than enough left in his tank.