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Unrestricted free agent Mark Caguioa expected to return to Ginebra next conference

Barangay Ginebra head coach Tim Cone said they still intend to bring Mark Caguioa back into the fold after the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup following the team's decision to put him in the unrestricted free agency pool.

In a text message, Cone explained the Gin Kings' decision to relegate the longtime franchise icon, who has played his entire career with Ginebra, to the unrestricted free agency pool and expounded that their plan is to have him return in the next conference.

"We're certainly not moving away from Mark," clarified the two-time Grand Slam winner. "We expect him to join us in the next conference. He still very much wants to play this season and we want him to play. Due to personal issues prior to the conference, he couldn't get ready in time for the 'bubble.'"

Cone furthered that Ginebra has made similar moves with Joe Devance and Jeff Chan, who have both been relegated to the unrestricted free agency pool earlier in this conference. According to the league's website, Devance was sent to the pool after the Gin Kings activated Aljon Mariano last Aug. 25, and when they activated Devance last Sep. 7, it was Chan's turn to be relegated.

Chan was reactivated Tuesday after the crowd favorites sent Scottie Thompson to the injured/reserve list, which meant Caguioa now had to give way.

"It's a small move," commented the league's winningest coach. "We've done it to key players before. Mark has a good understanding of what we're trying to do and is on board."

Thompson, meanwhile, will miss Ginebra's crucial clash against Meralco on Thursday after being placed under the league's health and safety protocols. Cone, though, is hoping the Gin Kings will get the 28-year-old guard back in time for the quarterfinals.

"As for Scottie, he's been removed from the lineup and put on the injury list due to the PBA's health and safety protocols. If there is time, we hope to get Scottie back for the playoffs," he shared.

Thompson's absence is another big blow for Ginebra, which is already missing big man Japeth Aguilar who is recovering from an MCL sprain he sustained in their loss to TNT last Sep. 12. The do-it-all playmaker had averaged 12.2 points (fifth in Ginebra), 8.7 rebounds (second), 4.2 assists (second), a team-high 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks (second) in 10 games played.

Also compounding the Gin Kings' woes is an injury to Stanley Pringle, who is listed as a game-time decision owing to a knee injury.

"Stanley has a bone bruise in his knee, on his femur. Very painful injury," disclosed Cone.

A playoff spot is still far from assured for the defending champions who, at 4-6, will have to win their last game against the Bolts to improve their chances of making the quarterfinals.

In 16 scenarios presented by PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III, if they lose to Meralco, there are only two instances wherein Ginebra can still figure in a playoff for no. 8. In the event of a Gin Kings win, on the other hand, six of those 16 scenarios have them making the playoffs outright.

"Needless to say, the challenge will be great," opined Cone. "Our focus is not making the playoffs. That's somewhat out of our control. What we can control is our prep for our Meralco game. All our focus is on that."