MANILA, Philippines -- The absence of reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) June Mar Fajardo was a major talking point when stakeholders of the Philippine Basketball Association gathered at the Conrad Manila hotel on Tuesday.
The San Miguel Beer center will miss the upcoming All-Filipino Cup after suffering a complete fracture in his right leg during practice earlier this month, dealing a massive blow to his team's hopes of winning a sixth straight title in the conference.
Fajardo was San Miguel's trump card in the All-Filipino Conference for the past five seasons, with the other teams mostly unable to slow down the "Kraken." With him sidelined, however, the competition in the PBA is blown wide open.
"The last five PBA press conferences, ang prediction ay laging San Miguel Beer," Robert Non, the team's governor, wryly noted. "Okay naman, we won five championships."
The league's governors were singing a different tune on Tuesday, with several predicting that TNT KaTropa and the Magnolia Hotshots will rise to the top. Barangay Ginebra -- which also lost its big man, Greg Slaughter, to a sabbatical -- was also a popular choice.
"The teams right now are really balanced," said Erick Arejola of NorthPort.
"Sa akin, ang bet ko ngayon, tingin kong malakas na team ang Talk 'N Text," said Alfrancis Chua of Ginebra.
"I think it will be the Hotshots and TNT who will dominate the games next season," said Rain or Shine's Mamerto Mondragon.
"We've played three tune-up games, and I think Rain or Shine and Ginebra will be the teams to beat in this coming All-Filipino," offered Magnolia's Rene Pardo, for his part.
However, the league's governors also refused to count out San Miguel, even as Non lamented their recent run of bad luck. After Fajardo's injury, both Marcio Lassiter and Terrence Romeo also picked up knocks that could sideline them for a while.
"Alam mo 'yung teams ni June Mar at ni Greg, malakas pa din 'yun kahit wala sila," said Bobby Rosales of Columbian Dyip. "So it will still be a challenge to all the other teams when we face them."
"Of course, it will be a big loss to San Miguel and Ginebra, but they've made their own adjustments. They are champion teams, so they are used to adversity," he added. "So we cannot take anything for granted."
The PBA's 45th season opens on March 8 at the Araneta Coliseum, with San Miguel taking on Magnolia in the lone game of the night.
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