MANILA, Philippines – A PBA analyst believes it will be up to the local players of the Petron Blaze Boosters to step up if they want to salvage their season following the lifetime ban of import Renaldo Balkman.
Balkman, who averaged 28 points per game in the Commissioner’s Cup and led Petron to a 5-2 record, was banned after a stunning meltdown in the Boosters’ loss to Alaska Aces last Friday, which culminated with him choking teammate Arwind Santos.
PBA Commissioner Chito Salud also fined the former New York Knick and Denver Nugget P250,000.
Speaking to ANC, PBA commentator and analyst Charlie Cuna said Balkman's ban was a huge blow to a Petron squad that had championship aspirations this conference.
"They are very powerful, even with their locals, but Balkman provided a very difficult skill set from the other imports," Cuna said.
"He gave them energy, the intangibles and leadership... He was an NBA veteran. It’s gonna be a big loss. Petron will have to step it up," he said.
Cuna said the Petron management will have to look for a new import that can hopefully duplicate what Balkman was able to bring to the team, but stressed that the Boosters remain a strong contender.
"If they don't find anyone, I think they have a more than ample local line-up that can compete with any team in the league," he said.
"Unless Petron is able to come back strong from this setback, this might affect the team for the rest of the tournament," Cuna added.
Even though he was not able to watch the incident live, Cuna still called it a "really shocking" act.
"Never have I seen anybody go for the neck that way," he said. "I think that clinched it. The decision made by the Commissioner was clinched when (Balkman) grabbed the neck of Arwind Santos."
Cuna said Petron may file a motion for reconsideration, but noted that Salud was "very straightforward and very final" with his decision.
"The incident happened several days ago and he had several days to mull over it," said Cuna. "He already said over the weekend that Balkman would have to come up with a very convincing explanation."
Petron will play their first game sans Balkman on Saturday against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in Panabo, Davao del Norte.