Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone (PBA Images)

Now that it has achieved its mission of winning the PBA’s crowned jewel, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel is bracing for a massive challenge against all comers as it turns from hunter to hunted in 2021.

Ginebra became the new kingpin of the PBA Philippine Cup Wednesday after finishing off TNT, 82-78, in Game 5 of their title series inside the bubble at Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center, lifting the only trophy contested in the shortened 45th season.

Coach Tim Cone has a special feeling about taking the “bubble championship” which was held despite the COVID-19 pandemic while acknowledging that the defense of the PBA’s most important tournament could be tougher should the 46th running of the pro league gets rolling in April.

Read: Bubble title ‘most unique’ in PBA history, says Tim Cone

For one, Cone expects TNT to bounce back after losing the series 4-1 and its stars Ray Parks Jr. and team captain Jayson Castro sidelined by injuries.

“I think everyone’s gonna have a rivalry against TNT, they’re primed to step into another level,” said Cone when asked if budding rivalry between Ginebra and TNT is in the offing.

“They’re fairly young and Jayson, I think, has a really couple of years left as long as he can stay healthy. But aside from that, their core’s really young — Troy (Rosario), (RR) Pogoy, (Poy) Erram, (Simon) Enciso and Bobby Ray who’s still in his second year. 

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“So they have a really, really young core they gonna build on, and I think they’re gonna get better and better. And I think that if we’re all not careful, they will become the dominant team over the next few years,” he added.

But Cone is not counting out on other teams to try and cut short Ginebra’s reign,

“Of course, San Miguel has something to say about that, and so are the other teams,” he said. “And I also think that the other team that people need to keep their eye on is Phoenix.”

San Miguel Beer saw its five-year dominance of the Philippine Cup end with the losses of June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo to injuries and a quarterfinal exit to Meralco, but remains a team that make a title run if everyone can stay healthy.

Phoenix Super LPG pushed TNT to the limit in the semifinals, falling one game short of making its first-ever Finals behind Matthew Wright and a reborn Calvin Abueva.

“They’re a talented team that has created chemistry, and I think they could be a team to reckon with in the next few years as well,” Cone said. 

For the Kings to repeat, Cone stressed the need to keep the team intact, especially with the status of several players remain a question mark.

Honda-PBA Press Corps Finals Most Valuable Player LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson are obviously going to come back, but Cone is hoping to see veterans Mark Caguioa and Joe Devance return for another shot.

Read: Next target for Finals MVP Tenorio: Grand slam with Cone, Gin Kings

Cone also wants to see Greg Slaughter, who took a break after his contract expired last February, rejoin Ginebra provided negotiations go well between the two parties.

“We’re hoping to get Greg back. I think that would be big huge for us and that would help Japeth out in terms of giving him a break and we’ll be more creative in the way we play,” said Cone.

“I’m hoping Mark Caguioa decides to play one more year, only because he’s such a presence on the team. He’s a presence in the locker room, he’s a presence at practice and incredibly a positive influence to the younger players. And of course, Joe. So we’ll see. But I like the team to come back intact and if can find a way to get Greg back, I think we can still compete for championships.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (