Many shook their heads when Phoenix Super LPG traded Calvin Abueva to Magnolia last February 17.
Questions were raised on whether the Dennis Uy-owned franchise was already punting even after it was just one win away from entering the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup Finals. Moreover, there emerged allegations on whether the Fuel Masters have become a “farm team”.
But the Abueva trade that saw Phoenix Super LPG gain Chris Banchero and a pick swap with Magnolia was just phase one.
The endgame was to get Vic Manuel.
“This is the grand plan of the Calvin trade,” said Phoenix Super LPG head coach Topex Robinson to Tiebreaker Times.
Robinson, a former pro player, kept silent for the past six days. It was eerily unusual, as the 46-year-old tactician had always accommodated interviews even in the late hours of the evening.
But it was not because he wanted to avoid questions regarding the Abueva trade. Robinson had been playing the waiting game for the huge gamble he took.
“The Calvin trade was not just a management decision because I had the last say. Of course, I always inform the management,” admitted Robinson, who took over from Louie Alas last September.
“The moment the Calvin news came out, we were offered Vic by Alaska.”
Having Manuel was not a guarantee, though.
What if Manuel decided to take his talents elsewhere – like say other pro basketball leagues like Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3×3, National Basketball League, or Vis-Min Super Cup? What if in those six days, Alaska found a more alluring deal with the 10 other PBA teams?
One thing Robinson had going for him was that Phoenix threw its house money on his cards.
“The management trusted me. When I told them about the opportunity to get Vic after the Calvin trade, Boss Dennis and Attorney Raymond [Zorilla] supported me.”
The cards then fell into place.
Monday evening, Alaska summoned Manuel, who was still in Subic, to meet them in their office in Alabang. At around 9:00PM, Manuel signed the dotted line, knowing that a sign-and-trade with Phoenix was about to commence. Phoenix was one of three teams Manuel wanted to be in as he already had built a relationship with Robinson since their days in both D-League team RnW Pacific Pipes and in Alaska years prior.
A few minutes later, Alaska called Phoenix.
“Now this is the kicker. The opportunity to get Vic by just dropping one spot in the draft was an opportunity that came knocking. “
A little more than 12 hours after the talk between Phoenix and Alaska, the trade was approved by the league: Manuel along with Alaska’s first (7th) and second (18th) round picks in the 2021 PBA Rookie Draft were sent to Phoenix for Brian Heruela, Phoenix’s first (6th) and second (19th) round picks in the 2021 Draft, and the Fuel Masters’ first round pick in the 2022 Draft.
There was no bad beat. Robinson just landed the jackpot.
Now, Phoenix Super LPG has Manuel and Banchero; holdover stars Matthew Wright, Jason Perkins, Justin Chua, and RJ Jazul; and a good pick. And by the way, Michael Calisaan, a player that Robinson had always wanted since he was in Lyceum, is a free agent.
Now, Robinson enters the PBA casino with bags of chips and ready to go all in. And he looks to make this gamble worth it for his bosses.
“Now, the responsibility that I have is to handle this championship-caliber team,” he shared.
“I would rather go to battle with this lineup.”
How do you like them Fuel Masters now?