Jericho Cruz placed on trading block as Rain or Shine faces Meralco

MANILA, Philippines – Fiery Magnolia guns for the solo lead in taking on skidding Blackwater even as Rain or Shine tangles with Meralco in what could well be its last game with playmaker Jericho Cruz in the PBA Philippine Cup at the MOA Arena in Pasay City Friday night.

The Hotshots chase a fifth straight win and sixth in seven games in all while the Elite look to check a three-game slide as they clash in the 4:30 p.m. curtain-raiser.

Magnolia, which currently shares the lead with San Miguel Beer at 5-1, is the odds-on pick even as Paul Lee is a doubtful starter due to a severe ankle sprain sustained in a bad fall in their last game against TNT KaTropa Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Elasto Painters square off with the Bolts at 7 p.m., hoping to overcome distractions brought about by the growing disenchantment of certain players to coach Caloy Garcia.

For one, the ROS team management is now amenable to letting go of Cruz for as long as they get an acceptable trade.

NLEX, Kia, Phoenix Petroleum and TNT KaTropa are among teams interested on Cruz.

Raymond Almazan has also expressed his desire to be traded, but Garcia still hopes he can patch things up with the 6-foot-7 center.

“Coach Caloy said he’ll talk again with Raymond. Baka raw tampo lang,” said Danny Espiritu, agent of Almazan.

“But Cruz has said his wish to coach Caloy, and the management has decided they’re letting him go for an acceptable trade deal,” said Espiritu.

A possibility is a swap between Cruz and NLEX guard Kevin Alas. There’s also the offer of Kia involving Reden Celda and a future draft pick.

Amidst this issue, the E-Painters are trying to stay positive, hoping to score a follow-up to their 97-86 toppling of the Road Warriors the last time out.

The Elasto Painters are currently in a three-way logjam at fifth place with the Barangay Ginebra Kings and the GlobalPort Batang Pier at 3-3. The Bolts are a full game behind at 2-4.

The Hotshots are the hottest team at the moment but they’re wary of the Elite.

“They are very dangerous since they have lost their last three games,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.

“We need to match their effort and aggressiveness. We also need to work on our consistency on both ends, and minimize our turnovers,” Victolero also said.