After San Miguel head coach Leo Austria came to terms that his team is ‘not getting any younger’, it was a heartbreaking decision for him to give up its most seasoned and decorated veteran, Arwind Santos in a one-on-one exchange.
Earlier this week, Santos was traded for Vic Manuel as SMB tries to shave off some years from its ledger. It was a shock move that put an end to one of the greatest eras in the rich history of the San Miguel franchise, where Santos established himself as one of the best players of the league.
“(Kaya) napaka-bigat para sa akin na i-let go ang katulad ni Arwind. Mabigat talaga para sa akin,” said the 63-year old coach.
Santos, the league’s top player before June Mar Fajardo started to dominate the PBA by winning six straight MVPs, is still on top of his game averaging 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in the previous Philippine Cup, where San Miguel entered the semifinals.
The 6-foot-4 versatile forward played the last twelve seasons with SMB, forming a fabled Death 5 with Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, and June Mar Fajardo that sparked the franchise to a historic PBA Philippine Cup five-peat.
Austria bared that he owed his achievements to the 40-year old veteran who was in each and every game that saw him win his eight PBA titles in seven years as a mentor with the Beermen.
“Nag-prosper ‘yung career ko (dahil sa kanya), dahil instrumental siya sa walong championship namin,” said Austria on Santos who earned a reputation for making clutch buckets, even bagging Finals MVP plums.
The trade came just a few hours after the veteran bruiser Manuel was shipped to NorthPort Batang Pier in exchange for the former Defensive Player of the Year Sean Anthony.
The shock deal sprung from the entire coaching staff and management’s collective decision spearheaded by governor Robert Non and team manager Gee Abanilla.
“We need to have some changes, and an opportunity arises,” said Austria. “We talked to NorthPort and OK naman sila as long as beneficial to both teams.”
Moreover, the three-time PBA Coach of the Year explained that he had a conversation with Santos before trade was officially announced.
“Nagkausap kami, kasi ayaw naman namin na magkaroon ng trade na hindi niya alam. Ayaw namin na manggagaling pa sa iba,” he Austria. “Mahirap tanggapin kahit kanino, sa part niya at sa part ko rin.”
SMB experienced a setback as they failed to complete a season sweep – after winning the import-flavored 2019 Commissioner’s Cup title with Chris McCullough, adding to the fifth Philippine Cup plum it bagged the same season.
It was during that time when the battle-tested Beermen succumbed a heartbreaking loss that ended their title hopes for the season-ending Governors’ Cup.
In the recently-concluded Philippine Cup in Bacolor, San Miguel never got their deficit down to single digits in the nip-and-tuck Game 7 of the semifinals against eventual champion TNT and fell short of the grand prize despite the return of six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo.
“The past two conferences, very stagnant kami. Parang hanggang doon na lang kami. Laging short kami,” said Austria on SMB’s erratic stint. “So we need to have some changes.”
“Ang masaklap nga lang nun, ang na-involved si Arwind,” Austria added.
Now Santos heads to Mikee Romero-owned squad where he’s looking forward to joining forces with coach Pido Jarencio.