MANILA - The Alaska Aces have been quite busy in the PBA offseason.
The Aces signed Jeron Teng to a contract extension, added Gab Banal and Yousef Taha to their roster, and dealt veteran forward Vic Manuel to Phoenix Super LPG in a trade that netted them the sixth pick in the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft.
Despite their activity and their new acquisitions, Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso knows they still have a ways to go to catch up with the teams in the PBA's upper echelon -- especially as those squads have made moves of their own.
Phoenix Super LPG acquired not just Manuel but also combo guard Chris Banchero, while Magnolia added Calvin Abueva in a blockbuster trade. San Miguel secured CJ Perez, the league's two-time scoring champion, and will welcome back six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo from injury as well.
"That's an understatement when you say (they) beefed up," Cariaso said wryly of their league rivals.
To compete with the PBA powerhouses, Cariaso said the Aces must live up to their motto of "We, not me."
"We have to be better together, honestly," he stressed. "We have to come in their understanding roles, we have to understand what our strengths and weaknesses are."
"We have to find a way to be able to level up and play at a higher level together," he added.
Though they traded Manuel away, Alaska still has its young core bannered by Jeron Teng and Abu Tratter, as well as players like Robbie Herndon and Mike DiGregorio. They still have veteran guards like Maverick Ahanmisi and JV Casio to anchor the squad.
Cariaso is also hopeful that they can get a solid player in the Draft on March 17, likely a big man to fill in the void left not just by Manuel, but even stalwart center Sonny Thoss who is headed towards retirement.
What's crucial is for them to learn to play together and develop chemistry on the court, the coach adds.
"With our group, you know, with the new acquisitions, we just need more games under our belt," said Cariaso.
"I think that will help our team more… We may not have the talent that other teams have and that's just really how it is," he added. "But again, it's always been like that for us at Alaska."
"We like the challenge."
It's not just his players who have to improve and learn in order to keep up with the league leaders. Cariaso is also challenging himself to be "a step better" for the Aces.
In the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, Alaska made it to the quarterfinals as the sixth seed, losing to eventual finalist TNT Tropang GIGA.
"We're looking forward to the fight," Cariaso said of the upcoming season. "We're looking forward to the challenge."