Trade Vibes: Mac Cardona, Gary David, and Rabeh Al-Hussaini

With most teams already eliminated in the PBA Govs' Cup, the customary hardwood version of musical chairs took the spotlight last week. In a slew of transactions, we saw Chris Ross reunite with Sol Mercado in exchange for Gary David, Rabeh Al-Hussaini part ways with Norman Black's Texters, and Mac Cardona get sent to the Air21Express.

Mac Cardona, Gary David, and Rabeh Al-Hussaini all
have new homes in the PBA.
(composite image by Enzo Flojo/Hoop Nut)

At the center of it all are the Meralco Bolts, who have really shaken up their team's roster. Without Mercado, Ross, and Cardona, this is no longer the Meralco team we've been accustomed to seeing. The prospective starting unit for the Bolts? How about this: Al-Hussaini at the slot, the super solid Reynel Hugnatan at the 4, the versatile Cliff Hodge teaming up with Gary David on the wings, and Mike Cortez at the point.

It actually doesn’t look half bad. In fact, if coach Ryan Gregorio plays his cards right, and, more importantly, if Rabeh can keep his head in check, this team has the talent to be a regular postseason side. I mean, Hugnatan and Hodge are great rebounders, and Hodge has added a three to his arsenal, too. David will always be dangerous, while Cortez makes up for his reduced speed and explosiveness with composure and court-vision. Their bench isn’t to scoff at, too. The addition of Bitoy Omolon adds depth to Meralco’s second unit, which already boasts of specialists John Wilson and Sunday Salvacion, as well as the uber-versatile Jared Dillinger.

The key will really be the center position. Rabeh and his chief back-up, Jay-R Reyes, make up a sizable frontline, and they have talent to compete, but neither has really been able to meet his potential in the pros. If both of them can really blossom, then the Bolts should be a top-half team next season, but, well, if both guys deliver the status quo, then expectations won’t be high. Should the Rabeh-Jay-R combo falter, the onus will be on Hugnatan to play out of position and cover the middle. This also means Hodge and Dillinger will slide into either forward position. Can you say small ball?

A nightly highlight, though, should be El Granada, whose shooting, when combined with that of Salvacion and Wilson, makes Meralco maybe the streakiest three-point shooting squad. If coach Ryan really wants to go small, he can even pair up David on the wings with Salvacion, while Dillinger and Hodge play up front. This gives Cortez so much flexibility as literally all five guys can hit from rainbow country. The possibilities are quite interesting.

The only caveat? Meralco may have given up too much, as they won’t be getting any picks in the 2013 PBA Draft. This is extremely unfortunate, of course, since the 2013 pool might be the deepest in the past two decades. And that’s saying a lot when we consider that last year’s draft already had the likes of Hodge, Calvin Abueva, June Mar Fajardo, and Chris Ellis among others. Considering Meralco might have been able to pick fifth, they could have tabbed a young, quality big guy like Raymund Almazan or Justin Chua, or maybe even a crack playmaker like RR Garcia or Jeric Fortuna, both of whom could be mentored by Cortez.

Over at Air21, it sure looks like coach Franz Pumaren is not shying away from collecting his former De La Salle stalwarts as Cardona dons the colors of the Express. This past season, the guy known as Captain Hook was not able to continue his high-scoring ways as the addition of Hodge gave the Bolts a new offensive option. Cardona’s scoring (just 12.1ppg) was his lowest since his rookie season, but many feel he will flourish playing under his old college mentor. Of course, the concern here is does Air21 have enough possessions to go around, as KG Cañaleta, the 2012-2013 Most Improved Player, is expected to put up even bigger numbers next season? Can you hear M-V-P chants from the dozens of Air21 fans out there?

A possible starting unit for Air21 can look like this: Asi Taulava (he won’t go to Ginebra, right?) at center, Cañaleta at PF, Cardona alongside another La Sallian – Joseph Yeo – on the wings, and Simon Atkins (also a La Sallian) at the point. Not too shabby, right? Of course, Yeo has never really exploded in the PBA, while Atkins needs to be consistent, but this is a competitive five that can be one of the quickest units out there.

Just like Meralco, however, the Express won’t have the benefit of any picks in the first round of the 2013 Draft. Air21’s sole pick is actually fifth in the second round. And who can they get then? James Forrester? Mike Silungan? I would actually like Air21 to take a chance on someone like Isaac Holstein (6’9 from West Virginia State and Blackwater Sports) or even potential projects like JP Erram (6’7 from Ateneo) and John Usita (6’8 of Shoreline Community College). Having those young centers mentored by Asi could yield positive results in the near future.

This piece also appears on the PBA website.

Original images used in the composite image are by Mark Dimo Dimalanta, Paolo Papa, and Pranz Kaeno Billones.

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