MANILA, Philippines -- The past week has been among the "saddest times" in Leo Austria's career, the San Miguel coach admitted as the franchise parted ways with two of its key players.
In a pair of shock moves, San Miguel traded Arwind Santos to NorthPort on November 8 in exchange for Vic Manuel, followed by a trade for Simon Enciso that saw Alex Cabagnot head to TerraFirma.
Santos' departure marked the end of the "Death Five," the San Miguel core that has won eight PBA championships including five All-Filipino crowns -- a reality now underscored by the Cabagnot trade as well.
"Itong past few days, this is one of the saddest times in my career," Austria admitted.
Austria has coached San Miguel since 2014, helping them get past the infamous "Petronovela" days and developing them into a powerhouse that has set the standard in the PBA for the past several years. They were especially impressive in the All-Filipino conference, winning five consecutive Philippine Cup crowns.
Santos was the Finals MVP when they won the 2015 All-Filipino crown, while Cabagnot was the Finals MVP in their run to the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup title.
"Ito nga ang two of my best players, member ng Death Five," a rueful Austria said. "Kung wala itong dalawang ito, hindi magpo-prosper 'yung career ko."
"Si Alex… Mr. Crunchman, 'di ba? Very clutch. And same thing with Arwind, marami silang mga buzzer-beater in a very important game. And surely, I will miss them," he said.
Austria recalled that Cabagnot was a late addition to the Beermen's core, having been acquired in a deadline day trade ahead of the 2014-15 Philippine Cup playoffs from NorthPort (then GlobalPort).
"When we had the opportunity to get him, and I told the management I need him, ganyan, and he played well with the team," the coach said. "And then, so many games pa na talagang very clutch siya eh. And then Arwind, 'yung spirit niya, 'yung leadership niya, always there."
However, Austria also acknowledged that the franchise has to move on, as painful as it may be for him on a personal level.
The Beermen's performances in the last two conferences showed the need to make changes, said Austria, as they failed to reach the championship series in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the All-Filipino Cup.
"Hinahanapan kami ng performance ng team since 2019 Governors' Cup until the last bubble sa Pampanga, so we're not doing well. So that prompted us to evaluate the team performance," he explained.
"We need to have some changes dahil talagang we have to move on," he said.
"Good things will never last naman talaga. Talagang darating at darating 'yung time na talagang papakawalan mo rin."
With the trades of Santos and Cabagnot, only Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter, and June Mar Fajardo remain from San Miguel's formidable core.
Just as he was after the Santos trade, Austria was again non-committal when asked if San Miguel intends to make more deals ahead of the start of the PBA Governors Cup.
"For us, it's hard to initiate dahil wala na kaming pamalit eh," he said. "Halimbawa, ite-trade namin 'yung isang player namin, so kailangan kapantay niya o ka-level niya. Hindi kami magkakaroon ng ganoon unless 'yung pick ang ibibigay namin."