October 7 was the final day of the Arizona Diamondbacks' 2011 season. On that day, when the team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 3-2 in 10 innings, its lineup looked like this:
Willie Bloomquist, SS
Aaron Hill, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Miguel Montero, C
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Chris Young, CF
Ryan Roberts, 3B
Gerardo Parra, LF
That lineup featured a resurgent Hill, budding stars in Montero, Parra and Goldschmidt, and an MVP candidate in Upton. Sure, it was not elite, as there was no way Roberts should ever be a starter on a playoff team and Bloomquist was not an ideal shortstop. However, it was a good group and it had a future.
Things were only supposed to get better.
Monday, as the D-backs fell to the Miami Marlins by a score of 3-2 at Chase Field, their lineup looked like this:
Gerardo Parra, CF
Willie Bloomquist, 2B
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Miguel Montero, C
Cody Ross, RF
Jason Kubel, LF
Martin Prado, 3B
Didi Gregorius, SS
Parra is now an established everyday player, Goldschmidt is a star, Montero is a good player who has been in a funk, and Gregorius appears to have a bright future in the league. Outside of them, though, there seem to veteran players on bad contracts. As for the future? Yeah, about that…
Now, one bad game does not a bad lineup make. However, it should be apparent to anyone who has watched the 2013 Diamondbacks that outside of Goldschmidt and Parra, they have very little in the way of offensive production.
So, what happened to the once-promising D-backs' lineup?
A combination of injuries and Kevin Towers, mostly.
Since the loss to the Brewers roughly two years ago, the D-backs have traded Upton and Young, added Kubel and Ross via free agency, and acquired Gregorius and Prado via separate deals. In between were trades for pitchers (some worked out, others didn't), along with moves to acquire lesser-known position players who didn't quite work out. It happens.
To expect a general manager to win every trade would simply be unfair. And really, if you go through Towers' track record in the Valley, he's made some really excellent deals. But since the 2011 season, when the D-backs had a good team along with a much-envied farm system, Towers has had his share of struggles.
Outside of the three-team trade that netted the team Gregorius for pitcher Trevor Bauer and the contract extensions signed by Goldschmidt and Hill, very little has seemed to work out for the GM.
Neither the Kubel nor Ross signings have really worked out, and the Upton for Prado trade looks like a pretty solid bust at the moment. Granted, Prado has been a better player than this throughout his career, but his tenure in Arizona has resulted in a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -0.5, which means the team would be better off with someone -- anyone -- else in the lineup.
And on the pitching side of things, the Trevor Cahill trade appears to be a wash, at best, and the organization has shipped out quality relievers Craig Breslow, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw over the last year or so.
Again, no general manager is perfect, and to expect Towers to be is simply unreasonable. You win some and you lose some, and all you can do is hope the wins are more good than the losses are bad.
The disappointing part of Towers' misfires, though, is that most of them didn't have to happen.
No one forced him into signing Kubel and Ross to expensive deals, especially when the team's outfield was already set. He was not mandated to unload prospect Jarrod Parker in exchange for Cahill, especially when it meant parting with reliever Ryan Cook, too. And there's little need to rehash what happened with Upton, but suffice to say a deal only became necessary because Towers and the D-backs made it so.
Of course, even with all of that said, the D-backs are not in terrible shape. The farm system is hardly in dire straits, and the big league club is in contention to win the NL West.
And who knows, perhaps the return of a Silver Slugger at second base along with the addition of a prototypical leadoff hitter may be just what this team needs. After all, a little good health could easily go a long way for the team's chances.
And it is a time like this where we must remember just how far the Diamondbacks have come in such a short period of time. Just last season they lost 97 games, and now we're upset they lost in Game 5, on the road, in the NLDS?
Shows just how far the Diamondbacks as a team - and we, as fans - have come. But the key, especially right now, is to think of not where the team has come from, but instead where they are going.
Yeah, about that.
Truth is, you just can't predict what will happen with a team, no matter how certain their future may appear. There are no guarantees in sports or life, and because of that there will always be an exciting level of uncertainty in anything that goes on.
However, there are things one can do to increase the odds of certain outcomes coming to fruition, and as far as the D-backs are concerned, they've done a pretty good job of lessening theirs.
Throughout virtually their entire stay in the desert, the tight end has been used about as often as Sun Devil Stadium was for playoff games.
Jay Novacek did not become a Pro Bowler until he left for the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Awalt and Johnny McWilliams never amounted to much, and Freddie Jones and Todd Heap proved to be busts as free agent signings.
Sure, every now and then all the talk would be about a renewed emphasis on getting the tight end -- whoever it was at the time -- more involved in the offense, but all it would end up being is talk.
As is custom, once again there is excitement over the position, but things may be different this time around. After all, the team's new coach and quarterback like to involve the tight end quite a bit in the offense.
To wit, last season in Oakland, tight end Brandon Myers led the Raiders with 79 receptions, whereas in Arizona four different tight ends combined to make 72 catches.
Rob Housler led the way with 45 receptions for 417 yards, but his impact was minimized for a variety of reasons. That, though, may be about to change.
"I see a wideout playing tight end," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Thursday when asked what he sees in the third-year pro. "A guy that's very versatile. He can play in the backfield, at tight end, split out wide.
"I think the sky's the limit as far as where he can get talent-wise, and I really like the way he plays football."
Originally selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Florida Atlantic, Housler's potential has been tantalizing. A 6-foot-5, 250 pounder with good hands who can run a 4.55 40-yard dash, he would seem to have all the tools to become one of the league's best pass catchers at the tight end position.
But, inconsistent play -- from himself and his quarterbacks -- have kept him down. Numerous times over the last couple seasons a wide-open Housler would be missed, with some of the poor throws costing the team points. But now, armed with a new quarterback and new coach, many pundits believe he is ready to break out.
"I wouldn't say ‘break out,'" Housler said of what he's expecting this season. "I would just say I'm really looking forward to having a good year and just all-around, from winning games to being successful individually, I'm really thirsty for it and I'm hungry to kind of just go out there and put together a really good season."
If one consulted a Magic-8 Ball and asked it if Housler is in for a big season, it may very well say "Signs point to yes."
Because along with Palmer's propensity to look for his tight ends, Arians' offense is designed to get them the ball. Heath Miller became a star in Pittsburgh under his watch, and Colts tight ends contributed 73 receptions, 817 yards and five touchdowns last year.
"The more you can do, the more you get featured," Arians said of Housler.
"Speed, a lot of speed," quarterback Carson Palmer said of what excites him about Housler. "But he's not just a fast guy. He runs really good routes, he catches the ball well. He's done a good job blocking and he'll continue to work on that.
"Very smart, a really well-rounded player."
Sounds like Housler can do quite a bit which, according to his coach's track record as well as his words, means he'll get featured in the offense.
"Just through OTAs you can see there's a lot of opportunities, there's no real set route," Housler said of what he's noticed. "You can put a bunch of cogs out there and they can do whatever needs to be done, regardless of what the mismatch may be, that's what it's about, creating that mismatch."
Given his size and skill set, Housler would appear to be a mismatch the team could -- and should -- utilize quite often. And that may very well be the plan, though as a player with career numbers of just 57 catches for 550 yards with no touchdowns, the 25-year-old still has plenty to prove.
But like most young players, he's undergone a growing process during his time in the NFL. And though the team's new coach and quarterback would indicate things are looking up for his role in the offense, Housler noted there are no guarantees.
"I don't think you really know what's going to be used until you find out what's successful, so it's my job to make sure that we're successful in throwing to tight ends and completing balls," he said. "So it's really up to me."
The Arizona Cardinals' secondary will have a decidedly different look in 2013.
In fact, of the four defensive backs likely to be in the lineup on the first defensive snap against the St. Louis Rams on September 10, just two were with the team last season, and only one was a full-time starter.
The full-time starter is Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.
The other player is safety Rashad Johnson, a four-year pro from Alabama who fared well when pressed into action over the last couple of seasons. Mostly playing as a reserve and on special teams, Johnson is the owner of 133 combined tackles and three interceptions. Now projected to be a starter, his approach has not changed.
"When I was here and the opportunities that I had, I had to prepare like a starter each and every week," he said at the team's Tempe training facility after Monday's OTA (organized team activity.) "My third year, I think I started nine games when Kerry went down, and then last season Adrian had some injuries and some things going on, I had to start games, so each and every week I never knew when my number was going to be called."
"Kerry" is Kerry Rhodes, a former Pro Bowl safety who had been with the Cardinals each of the last three seasons, and "Adrian" is Adrian Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler who had spent his entire 12-year career in Arizona. Each player was released this offseason, while Johnson was re-signed to a new three-year contract.
Now, some view the turnover as a bad thing. Rhodes and Wilson, while maybe not what they once were, are still fairly effective players. The two combined for 121 tackles, four sacks and five interceptions last season, as well as leadership that is not so easily replaced.
So no pressure for Johnson, right? Right.
"You just can't add any more pressure than what the game already adds to you," he said. "It's already a pressure business; it's a performance-based business.
"Just go out and make sure you're prepared. When you're prepared and when you're ready to play, when the opportunity presents itself there's no pressure that needs to be added. You've already prepared for it, you've already done it and you set yourself up for success."
It may be early, but so far head coach Bruce Arians is pleased with what he's seen from Johnson and the other safeties.
"All those guys back there are interchangeable," he said. "Yeremiah (Bell) has given us great leadership and presence, Rashad's done a heck of a job, Tyrann (Mathieu)'s doing a heck of a job.
"I don't see any drop-off whatsoever at that position, if anything it should go up."
Johnson is excited about the possibilities, as he believes the amount of speed and skill in the secondary will lead to plenty of turnovers. But still, it's very much a new secondary from the one that helped Arizona collect the second-most interceptions and surrender the fifth-fewest passing yards in the NFL last season.
It's not as if Johnson did not play a role in that, as he often got the nod over Wilson in certain situations, and it's also not as if the Cardinals now have a lack of experience in the defensive backfield. In fact, Johnson said one of the things that will help him do his job is that the bulk of the players who will be lining up with him already have a solid grasp on what they're doing.
As such, the learning curve for Johnson is a bit smaller that it otherwise could have been.
"It definitely makes it a lot easier when you have guys that have played a lot of games like those guys have," he said. "You can go in and you guys can just lean on each other. We communicate and we trust in each other."
But Johnson is the longest-tenured Cardinal in the secondary, which is a fact that did not seem to matter to the 27-year-old.
"It's fun, it's an opportunity just go out and work on getting better," Johnson said.
Johnson getting better is why the Cardinals are confident he's ready to be a full-time starter. And it's why, if all goes according to plan, no one will think about the guy he replaced in the lineup.
When was the last time the Phoenix Suns made consecutive good decisions? How about three in a row?
Few will complain about the team's offseason, and that's an amazing feat for an organization that has given folks plenty to be upset about over the years.
Fire GM Lance Blanks? No qualms there.
Hire Ryan McDonough as general manager? Smooth move.
Make Jeff Hornacek to the new head coach? I can dig it.
Now, winning an offseason does not necessarily translate to winning games (unless you're the Miami Heat), but it is absolutely a step forward for a franchise that has made a habit of moving backward. Winning a press conference does not guarantee winning a championship, and unless the talent level on the roster improves, the new coach will find success difficult to come by.
Furthermore, don't believe anyone who tells you the decision to tab Hornacek had nothing to do with the PR side of things, because there's no chance the names Brian Shaw, Mike Budenholzer and Quin Snyder would have elicited the positive reaction that Hornacek has. That's not to say the Suns' choice isn't qualified, because he is. But you can't ignore one of the primary benefits of bringing him back into the fold.
Yet, if ever there was a franchise that needed some good PR, the Phoenix Suns were it.
When the 2012-13 season came to a merciful end, few fans had much trust in the team's leadership, and with good reason. At the time, many thought the franchise's fortunes would not change for the better until sweeping changes were made, including at the very top.
Some still believe that.
However, there is no arguing that everything the team has done since the season ended is, at the very least, not the wrong move.
Of course, no one knows how McDonough will fare in his new role or how good of a coach Hornacek will be. The "experts" may prove to be wrong, and three years from now we may remember this offseason that ultimately buried this franchise.
Or, maybe we won't. Maybe it will be looked as the summer when the Suns reversed course and laid the foundation for another successful era.
As the cliché goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. But it was built. It took time, but piece by piece it rose from the ground up.
The Suns are not going to suddenly turn into championship contenders, and it will be a stretch to say they'll even compete for a playoff spot next season. But with the moves they've made this offseason, it appears they can finally start building.
A small victory, sure, but it's noteworthy nevertheless.
Daniel Hudson is getting closer to making things a lot more interesting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The pitcher, who is working to return after Tommy John surgery, threw to opposing batters for the first time last week and reportedly looked pretty good in the process. Assuming there are no real setbacks in his recovery, the 26-year-old could find his way back into the rotation as soon as sometime next month.
Assuming, of course, the Diamondbacks have a place for him. As of now there isn't one, and if the plan is for Hudson to re-join the rotation, someone is going to have to get the boot. But who?
Well, it won't be Patrick Corbin, as the second-year pro has turned into the club's ace. And it isn't likely to be Wade Miley or Trevor Cahill, as both have been solid this season. Brandon McCarthy, who would have seemed like the easy (based on numbers) choice, seems to have righted the ship.
That leaves Ian Kennedy, but could he really be the odd man out?
The team's Opening Day starter each of the last three seasons, Kennedy just hasn't been that good of late. In fact, he hasn't been particularly good since 2011, when he won 21 games, posted an ERA of 2.88 and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. It was a season that seemingly came out of nowhere, and is proving more and more to be the exception rather than the rule.
Since that season, Kennedy has produced a 17-15 record to go along with a 4.17 ERA. Not terrible, not particularly good. Average, really. However, his 4.70 ERA in 2013 represents his worst mark since becoming a full-time Major League starter, and with his walk rate up and his strikeout rate down. The D-backs are 5-5 in games he's started.
That's as mediocre as it gets, and for a team that will go only as far as its pitching takes them, mediocre will not be enough.
The good news, at least for Kennedy, is that Hudson is not anywhere close to breathing down his neck. There is still time to turn his season around, and while no one should expect his 2011 form, there's nothing that says he can't find a level somewhere in between.
If he doesn't?
Well, as MLBTradeRumors.com suggested last week, perhaps D-backs GM Kevin Towers will look to deal his 28-year-old right-hander. Though Kennedy is under team control through 2015, his production may not necessarily equal his production. Would a trade be the best way to free up some room in the rotation?
Probably, leaving the only question as to when a deal or two will be made.
Because along with Hudson's inevitable return will be the arrival of some of the young hurlers from the team's farm system. Tyler Skaggs is not long for the minor leagues, whereas Archie Bradley, David Holmberg and Andrew Chafin could all find their way into the Major League roster in the next couple of years.
All of those pitchers -- and Hudson, too -- are unproven commodities at the moment. But the second one of them surpasses Kennedy as an option in the rotation, the D-backs will have to start examining their options with regards to who they will turn to every fifth day.
Ask anyone to sum up the 2012 Arizona Cardinals, and they may do so like this:
The defense was great, but the offense was terrible.
That could lead some to wonder if a group that seemingly had things figured out would be reticent to make changes. After all, why fix what isn't broken?
"Everybody's open to learning the new scheme and the coaches, they're receptive to coaching," new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said after OTAs on Tuesday. "We're making sure we're coaching them."
But how much change does the defense need? Last season Arizona ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense, allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per game, tied for 11th in sacks and had the second-most interceptions of any team.
Yet, defensive lineman Darnell Docket said the change from former defensive coordinator Ray Horton's scheme to Todd Bowles' is like "night and day," and it's a good thing.
"This right here allows me to do what I was doing when I was a dominant player at the position," he said, adding that the scheme frees up the defensive linemen to go and make plays. "It just allows you to be very dominant up front and be a physical force and not sit back and take on two or three defenders, containing people."
The change, at least up front, involves switching from a two-gap scheme to a one-gap scheme. Head coach Bruce Arians, when describing it, said the new style allows for the defensive lineman to be "disruptive" rather than spend their time creating room for the linebackers.
That could help to explain why Dockett, a former Pro Bowler, has seen his sack total drop in each of the last two seasons, falling to just 1.5 last year. Seems simple enough, right? How can a player get a sack when his job calls for him to occupy blockers?
That's no longer the case.
"You think about it, if you've been the nail for two years and (then) somebody tells you to be the hammer, you've got a lot of payback, don't you," Dockett said. "So that's been our approach right now; we're so excited."
They're also confident.
Dockett said he and fellow defensive end Calais Campbell have a goal, and that's to be better than the Houston Texans' duo of J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Smith, who played with Dockett in Arizona, would call up his former teammate to tell him about how they were doing.
For what it's worth, those two combined for 27.5 sacks last season.
"We've got a hit list out, and our defensive line, we're ready," Dockett said. "So we're going to grind, we're going to grind harder this year probably harder than we've ever grinded for so long,"
Unlike the last two years under Horton, Dockett says Bowles wants the defensive linemen to attack.
"We were so shocked and so happy about it, we're just excited," he said. "It's motivation every time you step on the field and a coach tells you to do what you're good at and not just do what I think or try to force players to do things they're not good at."
For the first time since the summer of 2009, the Arizona Cardinals have a pretty sure thing at the quarterback position.
There is no Matt Leinart to lose the job to Derek Anderson.
There is no Kevin Kolb to hand the job to, albeit without him having proven much at the NFL level.
And there is no John Skelton to win an uninspiring quarterback battle.
Carson Palmer, who is an established player in the league, is the guy, and barring injury will be the starter Week 1 when the Cardinals visit the St. Louis Rams.
That knowledge makes things easier on coaches, fans and players alike. To an extent, anyway.
"You know who the for sure starter is so you always try to get the most reps with him," second-year receiver Michael Floyd said after the team's organized team activity Tuesday. "But it goes away because everyone's just one play away from not playing so I think you've just got to have chemistry with both of them, just in case something happens."
Indeed, even the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and while Palmer is penciled in as the starter, backup Drew Stanton may find his way onto the field at some point. But for now, the veteran of nine NFL seasons is trying to get used to working with a new set of wideouts.
The early returns, though, are very positive.
"It's just good to have this speed on the field and the size of these guys we have," Palmer said. "They're all big and strong."
Palmer acknowledged there is still a long way to go with regards to getting used to his new targets, and given that it's just the middle of May there is still plenty of time to get acclimated. There were some interceptions Tuesday, which coach Bruce Arians attributed to players learning new roles and new teammates.
However, one player Palmer doesn't have to learn much about is Larry Fitzgerald, who he's admired from afar for many years via studying film.
"He's working as hard in practice as he was in games," Palmer said of what he's learned from being up close with Fitzgerald as a Cardinal. "He's a perfectionist, he wants to do things right every single time.
"He and I are going to get along great because I'm the same way."
But it's not just about Fitzgerald, and Palmer knows that.
"It's of the utmost importance to be on the same page with Larry, but it's of the utmost importance to be on the same page with every one of those guys because the ball can't always go to him," Palmer said. "I know that's not what he wants to hear, but that's the truth."
The latter statement was said with a smile and drew some chuckles, but it's true.
The quarterback added it's important he gets on the same page with Floyd, Andre Roberts and anyone else who will be lining up with him, which is a process that is only now beginning.
"Getting on the same page is just about repetition, it's not about anything else," he said. "Everybody runs the route different, a little bit of a different depth; the timing's a little bit different coming out of breaks.
"The only way you get that timing down is just repetition after repetition."
A two-time Pro Bowler who has twice been to the postseason, when Palmer says something like that, you believe him. Whereas last year similar statements would have been met with doubt, the fact that Palmer has "been there and done that" allows him to command the room and allow those around him to feel confident. While no one will openly say it, that was probably lacking last season.
And for a guy like Floyd, who caught 45 passes from four different quarterbacks as a rookie in 2012, having a guy like Palmer under center is comforting.
"I like Carson's leadership," Floyd said of what's different with the quarterbacks this season compared to last. "He demands a lot out of us and I feel like he's the main guy out there, being very talkative. There's a lot of experience in him, so a young guy like me coming into my second year, you know I looking a lot to him and focus because he's been through it and the quarterback kind of makes everything roll."
A couple weeks back word came out that Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver had no plans to sell the team. So, we went to Facebook and asked Suns fans "What -- if anything -- can Sarver do to change your opinion about him as an owner?"
There were more than 150 responses, and the majority said something to the effect of "nothing" or "sell the team."
Well Suns fans, it's time to come to grips with the fact that Sarver ain't going anywhere. For better or worse, he's going to be the one calling the shots.
Perhaps that does not have to be a terrible thing, as he understands the franchise might be better off with him calling as few shots as possible.
"I've jumped the gun before to spend money to sign guys that slowed us down in the rebuilding process," Sarver told Arizona Sports 620's Burns and Gambo Thursday.
Sarver must have been talking about the summer of 2010, which saw the team bring Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick and Hedo Turkoglu on board, along with the re-signing of Channing Frye to a deal that was, it's fair to say, a bit on the steep side.
The last few seasons have seen Sarver restructure the front office as well as hire two general managers. The first hire, Lance Blanks, didn't work out.
But the second one -- Ryan McDonough -- has been universally praised by nearly everyone in the basketball community. If he's as smart and capable as everyone says, then the team may yet have the guy in place who can get them back on track.
The rebuild will take time, though, as the former Celtics executive is taking over a team that had the worst record in the Western Conference and will be picking near the top of what is regarded to be a weak draft.
It's a far cry from where the Suns used to be, even as recently as just a few years ago.
Sarver's first few seasons saw an unprecedented level of success, while his last few have seen unprecedented levels of failure. Some questionable decisions may have cost the team a shot at a title, whereas some bad decisions have led them to where they are today. It's why fans refuse to give the owner the benefit of the doubt.
And they shouldn't.
But, at the same time, there should be some willingness to see if Sarver has turned a corner in his growth as an owner.
We've seen it happen before.
For years the Bidwill family was known for being cheap. Their best players would leave town as soon as they could, and the amenities the athletes were afforded could have been afforded by most of us. Arizona was not a desirable place to play, and the team was a perennial loser because of it.
Then the Cardinals got their stadium.
Michael Bidwill, who has taken over for his father Bill, has changed everything. Suddenly players view Arizona as a viable destination, and even those who leave, like Karlos Dansby, are more than happy to return.
That's a testament to the work Bidwill has done, be it of his own doing or by putting the right people in place and letting them do their jobs.
So Sarver's transformation, if in fact he has undergone one, is not exactly unprecedented.
In an Arizona Republic article by Dan Bickley, Sarver said, "I'm definitely a better owner today than I was nine years ago, even two, three years ago," Sarver said. "I'm realistic enough and honest enough to accept the fact that I need to learn and evolve.
"There are times in the past when we've used salary cap space wisely. But a lot of the times when we haven't used cap space wisely happened when I was involved in the process."
It seems like Sarver is ready to let his basketball people make the basketball decisions. President of Basketball Oerations Lon Babby and new general manager Ryan McDonough have quite the task ahead of them, and the owner has no plans of micromanaging or getting in the way.
"Our goal is to try to get back to elite status, which we had three years where we competed, say, we were a top five or six team and we had a legitimate chance to compete to win a championship," Sarver told the radio show. "We want to get back to that; we don't want to get back to where we're locked into mediocrity."
The value of a good general manager is as obvious as it is subjective.
The best, of course, build winners. The worst, as we know, do not.
Here in Arizona, we've been privy to the entire spectrum when it comes to GMs.
The best has been Phoenix Coyotes boss Don Maloney, who has managed to build a quality hockey team despite some very serious limitations. Hopefully the ownership situation gets settled and he's brought back to continue building a contender in the desert.
The worst has been Lance Blanks, who was canned by the Phoenix Suns after just three seasons, in which his team reached the postseason a grand total of zero times.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is somewhere in between, having helped build a team that won the NL West in 2011 but then proceeded to, in part, turn it into the mediocre bunch we see today.
And though he's been on the job for less than five months, it may be safe to say Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim may be ready to ascend to the top of the list.
In a short time on the job, Keim has taken a roster that (somehow) won five games last season and has completely remade it.
New starters along the offensive line as well as at running back and quarterback. Improved depth in the secondary as well as the defensive line. A draft that has been universally praised by many of the so-called "experts."
And not to be discounted, the perception of the job Keim has done among the national media is noteworthy, because it's just another step toward the death of the "Same Old Cardinals.'
"Keim and the Cardinals just completed a draft with so many bull's-eyes they were applauded by a national media that usually reserves its attention for what Arizona can't do instead of what it just did."
Even if we won't truly now how Keim and the Cardinals did in the draft for at least a few years, it's still nice to see a positive vibe surrounding the team and the moves it has made. It's a far cry from the offseason the Diamondbacks had, in which questions were raised about many of the moves they made.
No, everything the Cardinals have done up to this point has made perfect sense, be it adding a quarterback like Carson Palmer or even reaching for an offensive guard with the seventh pick in the draft. That move, by the way, looks much better when the rest of the draft haul is taken into account.
Then again, this is not to say every move will work out.
There figures to be roughly a dozen new starters when the team takes the field Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams, and you never quite know how all the pieces will fit together once the games start to count.
But as AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban pointed out, the Arizona Cardinals are a younger team now than they were last season. And to be honest, few would argue that the team is not better than it was last season, too.
That right there is the sign of a general manager who knows what he's doing.
Even with all the changes, the Cards are still trailing both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West's arms race. And who knows, they may still be a bit behind the Rams.
The way you should judge Keim's work to this point is by how things look for the team going forward. And, to be honest, things look pretty good.
The news that Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington was involved in a domestic disturbance Wednesday night, one that had him allegedly harm his ex-girlfriend, should have come as more of a shock.
But alas, we already knew many professional athletes are not exactly the best of us, and are prone to making some really dumb decisions and doing dumb things.
To be perfectly honest, it would have been fairly easy to forgive Washington for the substance abuse. Is it a selfish choice to partake? Absolutely, and one that should not go unpunished. But it's also a victimless crime that is pretty easy to move on from. Hell, it's why I wholeheartedly approve of the Cardinals giving Tyrann Mathieu a shot.
Sure, you want players to be smart enough not to earn a suspension, but at the end of the day there are people who mess with drugs. And, according to an ESPN.com report in April 2012, a study conducted in 2009 revealed that 22.6 percent of college athletes admitted to using marijuana at some point during the previous year -- and 26.7 percent of football players surveyed came clean, so to speak.
It would be naive to think they all quit once reaching the professional level, so it stands to reason there are athletes who use drugs every now and again.
But domestic violence? Grabbing a woman around the neck and shoving her around, as he's alleged to have done in the police report? That, I'm happy to say, is not as common.
Yet, if the allegations from Wednesday night are true, that's exactly what the 26-year-old Pro Bowl alternate did.
Following his previous incident, Washington stated, "I was always taught that when you make a mistake, you admit it, learn from it and face whatever consequences there are. I take full responsibility and I understand that I let down my teammates, the organization and fans. I apologize for that and promise that no one will work harder to make up for it."
This time, his statement reads:
"This is a legal matter and I am limited in what I can say other than that my lawyer and I will continue to cooperate with investigators and welcome the opportunity for all the facts to be presented. I regret that the situation has brought this kind of attention to my family and my team. I look forward to resolving it as soon as possible."
Sadly, as his mistakes start to become a trend, it's tough to buy into his words. Washington, who signed a six-year, $32 million contract extension prior to the 2012 season, cannot be trusted to do the right thing, not anymore.
So, what is the next course of action for the team? Well, in a statement, a Cardinals spokesperson said, "These are serious accusations that we are closely monitoring. Until all the facts are determined, and out of respect for the process, we will decline any further comment at this point."
Indeed, the team should allow the legal process to play out before making a move. Who knows, maybe this will all be much ado about nothing and Washington will be exonerated. However, if not, the second that's all taken care of the team should file the paperwork to release the player.
And fear not, that would not mean the end of Washington's once-promising career. Some team will give him another chance, and it's tough to blame them. Talent like this does not come around very often, and there's not a team in the NFL who wouldn't be better off with Washington on the field.
Except for the Arizona Cardinals.
As much as it will hurt to part with a player whose most recent season included 134 tackles, nine sacks and one interception, there's no doubt the woman he allegedly assaulted felt more pain while being attacked. That cannot be tolerated, no matter how good the player is on the field.
Because if he's a horrible person off it, there should be no place for him on the Arizona Cardinals.
Back in 2007, first-year Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and the team decided to play it safe with their first-round pick.
Selecting fifth, the team chose Penn State tackle Levi Brown. They played it safe, going with a guy who could play right away and filled a position of need.
They got burned.
Of course, back then the Cardinals passed on a chance to draft Adrian Peterson and Patrick Willis, among others. In fact, 13 of the 28 players selected after Brown have played in at least one Pro Bowl. Brown, of course, has not.
As it all pertains to the 2013 draft, the Cardinals did not pass up on any sure-fire elite playmakers. Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo were off the board, as was Ezekiel Ansah. Dee Milliner and Tavon Austin were available, but they would have been added to positions of strength. Still, the Cardinals once again played it safe, this time with the selection of North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.
"We truly feel like this guy could be a 10-12 year pro," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of Cooper. "A Pro Bowl-caliber talent."
That may be so, and let's hope he's right.
As I wrote earlier in the week, the idea of drafting an offensive lineman with one of the first 10 picks is one I'm not a fan of. I believe a team should seek out impact players, guys who will make a difference by making plays.
Cooper's impact (or the impact of any other lineman) will only be seen if another player has success. If Rashard Mendenhall has a successful year on the ground, then Cooper did a good job. If Carson Palmer stays upright, then Cooper did a good job.
Of course, if Mendenhall has a bad year and Palmer is on his back most of the season, that does not necessarily mean Cooper did a poor job. And that's the point.
Cooper may make a difference, but he alone will not make much of an impact. Will the offensive line be better with him on it? Probably, but will his presence mean the Cardinals will have a quality offense?
Prior to the draft, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had repeatedly claimed offensive line was not as big of a need as people thought. As crazy as it may sound, he's right. After all, it is not as if the team has neglected the spot.
Along with Brown, the team has paid good money to sign guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder, as well as retain center Lyle Sendlein. Add in Bobby Massie, a fourth-round pick from last year, and you have a line that has been put together with purpose. Whether or not it was put together well is up for debate (not really -- it wasn't), but that's just it.
You can spend as much money as you want and invest as many draft picks as you'd like in the front five, but unless the coaching and scheme are any good, it won't matter. Some of the best offensive lines in the league are made up of low-round selections or undrafted rookie free agents, all of whom have been coached up to play at a high level. The Cardinals, under Russ Grimm, did not do that, and they paid for it on the field.
And now, they've paid for it in the draft room.
"I think he adds a nice dimension to the existing group of guys that we have," Arians said. "We just finished mini-camp, I was extremely pleased with the group that's out there.
"And this is a very nice piece to that puzzle."
Indeed, Cooper may turn out to be a nice piece. In fact, his bust potential is probably as low as any player the team has drafted in recent history. But when you're drafting in the top 10, you should not be looking for pieces. No, you should be looking for the entire package.
NFL teams do not win championships by selecting offensive linemen with top-10 picks.
That's not an opinion; it's a fact.
Since 2003, 12 different offensive lineman have been taken with picks in that range. Of those 12, six have appeared in at least one playoff game. Of those six, just two have appeared in a Super Bowl: Jordan Gross in 2003 with the Panthers and Levi Brown in 2008 with the Cardinals.
As important as a solid offensive line is, the best teams do not spend early picks on any of the five positions.
To wit: Of the ten offensive linemen to start in last year's Super Bowl, five were first-round picks. The others? Fifth round, undrafted, second round, sixth round and third round.
And just one of the players -- Bryant McKinnie, of the Ravens -- was selected with a top-10 pick.
The previous Super Bowl, which pitted the Giants against the Patriots, featured more undrafted free agents (2) than first-round picks (1) along the respective offensive lines.
The moral of the story is not that a team does not need quality play along the offensive line to be successful; in fact, last year's Cardinals would have disproved any such thoughts just last season.
However, what it proves is that a team does not need to spend early first-round picks on an offensive lineman. They build their lines through other means, with the common theme being quality coaching and, even more than that, a quarterback who knows how to get rid of the ball.
Remember, the Cardinals' line wasn't so bad when Kurt Warner was under center.
So apologies to Lane Johnson, Chance Warmack and Eric Fisher, but if you're around when the Cardinals are on the clock, I'm hoping they pass.
It's not you; it's me.
Former Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson had a theory in the draft, and it's a good one. He believed teams should target "impact" players when picking in the early stages. It led the team to drafting Simeon Rice over Jonathan Ogden with the third overall pick in 1996.
It was the right call.
Sure, Ogden would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Baltimore had win totals of four, six, six and eight in his first four seasons. It was not Ogden's fault -- the guy made his first of 11 straight Pro Bowl appearances in 1997 -- but his greatness was not enough to elevate the franchise.
It was not until the Ravens had spent first-round picks on playmakers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis that they became a Super Bowl champion.
Rice, on the other hand, helped the Cardinals improve from four wins in 1995 to seven in 1996, and in 1998 he helped lead the team to the playoffs. He had sack totals of 12.5, 5.0 and 10.0 in his first three seasons.
Now that's an impact.
Bruce Arians' Cardinals may not be a favorite to win the NFC West, but they most certainly want to compete. While improvement along the offensive line is a must, the coach himself said, "I'm not a believer that we need offensive linemen desperately like everybody else thinks."
Arians, at least publicly, has expressed confidence in the group he has, believing the addition of Levi Brown to a group that gained plenty of experience last season could be enough to get the unit back on track.
That's good news, because a selection of a lineman at No. 7 would be a bad thing. Then again, it may not even come to that.
Some draft experts believe one of the top-three tackles will not even be around at seven, meaning the Cardinals would have to reach for a lower-ranked player if the goal is to grab a lineman.
Should that be the case, given that Arians and general manager Steve Keim have said the team has no plans to reach for need, they'll have to address a different position, probably on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps they would look to Oregon's Dion Jordan, Utah's Star Lotulelei or LSU's Barkevious Mingo. Or, maybe, they'd prefer a cornerback or safety.
Regardless, the team would not be wasting its first-round pick on an offensive lineman, and that's a good thing.
There are still many questions about what happened Monday, some of which will never be answered? Who did this? We'll probably find out. Why did they do this? We'll probably get a reason. And none of it will really, truly matter to those who lost a loved one or have had their lives change because of what happened. A terrible thing happened, and there's no way to turn back time to make sure it doesn't.
What happened in Boston was shocking, tragic, disturbing, angering and confusing. Just like any incident that seems to come out of nowhere, it is not unreasonable to express both sadness and shock.
I've even seen reactions that question our reaction to the bombing, given that America is responsible for the deaths of far more civilians overseas than who perished Monday.
At the very least, what happened has made everyone think. They think about family, friends, national security, national priorities. Don't believe me? Check out any of the three most recent blogs written by Arizona Sports 620 show hosts.
For me, though, it comes back to running, and the fact that many people will be unable to do what they love because of what happened.
Twenty-six miles. Wow.
I can't even begin to imagine running that course, yet I struggle even more to imagine wanting to -- and once being able to -- and no longer having that option.
Hopefully the vast majority of those hurt Monday will be able to run again; hopefully the thousands who were unable to cross the finish line this time will be able to do so next year.
Because there is nothing like a personal triumph, and there's not a doubt in my mind everyone who has ever finished that race has felt damn good about themselves. I've been there, albeit to a lesser extent.
And I'll be there again Saturday, crossing the 42-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium.
"This whole process has been really exciting and tough at the same time, and I've just been constantly with the coaching staff and with my family every day, just coming to what's the best conclusion and the best outcome for me, and I just decided just to continue my career as a Sun Devil."
Welcome back, Jahii Carson. And hello, expectations.
The perception of Carson is that he's the type of player who can get ASU to the NCAA Tournament. Hell, many think he's the type of player who should get the Sun Devils there. If ASU is only good enough for the NIT next year?
Things could get ugly in Tempe.
Thing is, Carson's decision to return to Arizona State for his sophomore season was the right one; he was not a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he may not have even been a first rounder. His jump shot needs work, and he must prove to scouts -- much as Michigan's Trey Burke did -- that he can succeed as an undersized guard. When you really look at the situation, there was no reason for Carson to leave town just yet.
And therein lies the rub with regards to his return.
Because as good as Carson was as a freshman, his decision to come back is not on the same level as the one Indiana's Cody Zeller made one year ago. Zeller would have been a sure-fire lottery pick, but wanted one more shot at an NCAA title.
Different sport but same idea, Carson's choice does not rank up there with the one USC quarterback Matt Barkley made in January 2012, when he passed up on being a top 10 pick because he felt the Trojans could win a championship.
Both of those players, it could be argued, made a mistake. The extra season in college ball exposed them to some degree, and their draft stock may have taken a hit because of it.
Carson, on the other hand, is taking on no such risk. He was not going to be a top pick, so he really has nothing to lose -- and everything to gain -- from coming back.
"My teammates have been great, the coaching staff has been excellent," Carson said. "Everybody here at ASU, I just feel welcome every time I step on campus.
"I like the way I feel when I step on campus and hang out with everybody here at Arizona State, and I just think it's the best thing for me to do, is to continue to try and build a legacy here and be the best Sun Devil I can be."
It was the best thing he could do, but now the pressure is squarely on a head coach who is already deservedly on the hot seat.
Herb Sendek has been at the helm of the ASU basketball program for seven seasons, and only once has been to the NCAA Tournament. Were he and the team snubbed at times? Maybe, but the fact is just one dance in seven tries. That's not good enough.
Now with Carson back in the fold, there is no room for error. The point guard averaged 18.5 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game last year, often times getting to the rim at will.
Yet he, along with multi-Pac-12 Player of the Week award winner Carrick Felix and shot blocking machine Jordan Bachynski, was not enough to get the Devils into the dance. Felix won't be back, but that won't temper the expectations in Tempe, not with a player of Carson's caliber.
Even though, you know, ASU had a player of Carson's caliber just last season and still was not able to get into the tournament.
"Obviously for our team, it's a great shot in the arm," Sendek said of his point guard's return. "He had a spectacular freshman year, and as you just heard he's very determined to continue to get better, and I think everybody's excited looking to next year."
If next year does not include an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, well, we know where the blame will fall.
Only one team in Phoenix Suns history has been worse than the 2012-13 version.
The first one.
The 1968-69 expansion Suns won just 16 games for head coach Johnny "Red" Kerr. They finished last in the Western Division.
The next year, Phoenix won 39 games and lost in the playoffs. They failed to reach the postseason each of the next five seasons, before going on that miracle run that saw them lose to the Boston Celtics in the 1976 NBA Finals.
So, what does this all mean for the team now? Absolutely nothing.
The truth is, we don't have the faintest idea what will become of the Phoenix Suns.
Could their stockpile of draft picks and players on reasonable contracts lead to better days in the near future? Perhaps.
However, could a seemingly incompetent management group dig the team's hole even deeper? Absolutely.
At this point in the season, with the Suns so far removed from the playoff conversation even Jim Mora is aghast at the suggestion, all there is to look forward to is an uncertain future that is off to a pretty rocky start.
"We just don't know how to play well," he continued. "We don't know how to play basketball and that's why we lose. Until we learn how to play 48 minutes of basketball, we're not going to win games. I'm surprised we won (23) games playing this way. Many of the games we won, we did the same thing. We just overcame it somehow. I'm also surprised we didn't fix it. We saw the problem pretty much the first week and we couldn't fix it. It's very frustrating. It's a bad year."
The team's clutch nine-game losing streak has helped the draft position immensely, and no matter how competitive you'd like to see the team be this year we all know the best thing for them to do is lose, and lose a lot.
But that does not mean one should be happy with the dumpster fire that the team has been of late.
Now, it's not exactly fair to pin the bulk of the blame on interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. He is working with a roster he did not assemble and is trying to instill new schemes and ideas on the fly. Without the benefit of a training camp, it's tough to a first-time coach having great success.
Besides, it's not like the team was doing any better under Alvin Gentry. Fewer blowouts, sure, but who cares? A one-point loss counts the same in the standings as a 21-point loss.
Hunter has given little indication he's part of the solution, but he's not the problem, either.
The real issue is an apparent lack of direction on the court, as Hunter has had to bench players -- players who figure to be part of the team's future, mind you -- at times due to lack of effort.
The team can talk about a "culture change" all it wants, but that's really just words. Nothing will change until the talent on the roster is good enough, and it's clear the one the Suns assembled is not.
Granted, it will look a bit different next season.
Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal are free agents, while Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat may find their way to the trading block. Shannon Brown is not likely to return, and Luis Scola will be eligible to be dealt on July 1.
The only players who seem to be guaranteed a spot on the 2013-14 roster are Goran Dragic because he's good, the Morris twins because it doesn't hurt to have them around, P.J. Tucker because he's useful, Kendall Marshall because he's young and Michael Beasley because no one will trade for him.
Is that the type of core a team can build around? To borrow a metaphor from the Suns' front office, is it a seed that, with a bit of water and nurturing, will eventually grow into a beautiful plant?
I was a sports fan long before I was ever an Arizona Wildcats fan.
The news that the head of officials for the Pac-12 may have placed a bounty of sorts on Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller disgusts me. It repulses me. It angers me.
And that's the sports fan talking -- not the Arizona alum.
No one will ever know if the technical foul referee Michael Irving gave Miller with 4:37 left and the Cats up two over UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament was in any way influenced by Ed Rush's conversation with the officials. Hell, no one will ever know if the Wildcats, had the technical not been assessed, would have gone on to win the game and have different fates in both the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. Truth is, it does not really matter.
What we do know, however, is that from here on out, every tough whistle that goes against Arizona will be questioned. Every replay that shows the ref missing a call against Arizona will have someone going, "hmm, was that intentional?"
Apparently, that's not much of a concern to Commissioner Larry Scott.
"Step one, for me, was I immediately had to decide if there was a fireable offense here," the commish told SVP & Russillo of ESPN Radio Tuesday.
"In my determination, no."
In my determination, that is absolutely the wrong answer.
Scott said Rush's goal was to make a point to the referees, that he was upset about how much leeway the officials were giving the guys roaming the sideline. The directive was not geared toward Miller as much as it was Rush's way of making a point that his crew needed to be more vigilant with regards to coach decorum.
The "offer" of money or a vacation was for emphasis and not an actual offer, according to the Scott.
However, intention matters not here, and neither does the fact that Rush may have made the comments in jest.
He said what he said, and there is a possibility a call was made because of it.
"There was nothing unethical or any breach of integrity about the way the games were called," Scott said, noting that UCLA's Ben Howland received a technical foul of his own the following day.
The one good thing that came out of Scott's interview was that he left the door open to ultimately part with Rush. While saying the "joke" was not a fireable offense, he admitted it is still yet to be determined if Rush will no longer be able to continue in his role given the perception people have of him now.
"That is a determination that still has to be made," Scott said, adding the integrity of his officials and his league is incredibly important. "Whether the program can reach the levels we want it to reach going forward, and have the trust and confidence, which is essential to an officiating program, is something we'll determine in the normal course, which happens in a couple months after the season is over."
The season may not be over, but you better believe Rush's employment with the Pac-12 will be shortly. The commissioner is already laying the groundwork, albeit very slowly.
At least, one has to hope he is.
At this point, it's difficult to see anyone -- Arizona fan or not -- viewing a bad call without wondering if something shady is behind it.
The Pac-12's basketball referees already have a well-deserved reputation for being among the worst in the country, only now people will question their motives. When a ref botches a call due to human error or incompetence, that's just part of the game. But when an official messes up because of other reasons, possibly of the nefarious type?
Well, that simply cannot happen if a sport is to remain legitimate. And fair or not, the idea that it could have happened is enough to force the commissioner's hand.
The National Football League's Cardinals have played 25 seasons in the state of Arizona.
In those 25 seasons, 28 different quarterbacks have started a game for the team.
Of those 28 different quarterbacks, just one -- Kurt Warner -- threw for more than 4,000 yards in a Cardinals uniform (once), and only Warner tossed more than 21 touchdowns in a single season (three times).
In the franchise's history, only two quarterbacks have eclipsed 4,000 yards and just seven times has a passer thrown for more than 21 touchdowns.
Carson Palmer, whom the Cardinals just traded for Tuesday, passed for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns last season as an Oakland Raider. If he posted those stats in Arizona, his season would go down in the annals of the team's history as one of the best of all-time.
That right there says two things: one, the team's history at the position is, well, dreadful. And two, Palmer, at 33, still has quite a bit left in the tank.
And for the record, Warner was 33 when the Cardinals signed him back in 2005 (and turned 34 before he ever took a snap for the team). Can lightning strike twice?
This is not to say Palmer is guaranteed to become the next Warner, but he arrives with similar baggage. An older QB whose best days appear to be behind him, Palmer was had for conditional late picks because few believe he's capable of playing at an elite level and leading a team.
Warner was available as a free agent for similar reasons.
In Arizona, Palmer will have an offense that fits his style of play, a Pro Bowl receiver to throw the ball to and a coach who believes in him. Oh, he'll also probably have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
The one thing he does not appear to have is a stable offensive line in front of him, though head coach Bruce Arians has expressed great confidence in the group and also has the seventh overall selection in the upcoming draft at his disposal. And note, you do not go out and acquire an old, pocket-passing quarterback without making sure your offensive line can keep him upright.
At the very least, you have to once again give the Cardinals credit. Two years ago they paid a hefty price to acquire Kevin Kolb, who was an unproven QB some thought to be the best on the market; now they paid a bargain-basement price for Palmer, who has 29,465 yards, 189 touchdowns and a pair of Pro Bowls on his résumé.
For a team that has tried various options in replacing Warner -- a high draft pick (Matt Leinart), a cannon-armed former Pro Bowler (Derek Anderson), an undrafted free agent (Max Hall), a late-round pick with a strong arm (John Skelton) or a high-profile player just waiting for an opportunity (Kevin Kolb) -- it appears the Cardinals have finally decided the best way to replace Warner is to try and find the next one.
And that could be Palmer.
While he may not lead the Cardinals to the same heights Warner did, you can't fault the Cardinals for trying. After all, given what we've seen at the position the last three years, mere competence will be a refreshing upgrade that could, get this team back to the postseason.
The good news is Palmer has proven himself to be better than competent.
Look at it this way: an "average" Palmer season is roughly 3,274 yards with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
The yardage total would place Palmer 11th on the team's all-time list; the touchdowns would put him in a tie for eighth.
From the time until Kevin Kolb was rumored to be heading to Arizona and now, I wrote roughly 21 columns regarding the quarterback.
Of those 21, eight had a negative tone, seven had a positive vibe and six were rather neutral.
Make up your damn mind, Green.
The truth is anyone who has read my stuff over the last couple of years knows I was not in favor of trading for the QB. He was unproven, I believed, and in no way worthy of the investment the Cardinals were going to make in him. There were times over the last couple seasons where he looked promising, and at the end of the day we all wanted him to succeed. He didn't.
But this isn't my way of saying "I told you so" or gloating about how right I was, because no one could have predicted what would transpire for Kolb or the Cardinals over the nearly two years they were together.
Fifteen games. Fourteen starts. A 6-8 record. A 58.5 percent completion percentage to go along with 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 10 fumbles. Various injuries, from turf toe and a concussion in 2011 to busted ribs and a shoulder issue in 2012. A fired coaching staff.
Two seasons and roughly $20 million later, the team got very little from its Hail Mary attempt to replace Kurt Warner, and the new coaching staff decided it best to move on.
And it probably is, for both the team and the quarterback.
Kolb's time in Arizona was ill-fated from the beginning, with the pressure of replacing a Hall of Famer and expectations unbefitting of someone with his credentials.
Is it his fault the team made such an investment in him? Was Kolb responsible for the coaching staff trying to force a scheme upon him rather than adjust its game plan to suit his skills? Can you really blame him for getting hurt?
The answer to all the questions is "no", but then again, that does not change the fact that Kevin Kolb experiment in Arizona will go down as a failure.
After all, when a team invests the kind of resources it did to get Kolb --- and then perhaps passed on a chance to sign Peyton Manning because they were afraid of losing him --- there's no other way to view things.
And it's a shame.
Now the Cardinals are, for better or worse, in pretty much the same place they were two summers ago, minus the possibility that their franchise QB could be on the way. Drew Stanton is alright, but in no way projected to be a star. Brian Hoyer played admirably last season, but the same could be said for him.
Then there's John Skelton and Ryan Lindley who, well, yeah.
The Cardinals swung for the fences when they made the deal for Kolb, as he was the biggest name on the market and many believed he was destined to blossom into a quality quarterback. As anyone who knows baseball could tell you, sometimes a cut like that leads to a home run, and sometimes it results in a strikeout.
The Cardinals didn't connect, and now the Kevin Kolb era is over in Arizona. He will go on to sign with another team and, maybe, stay on the field long enough to show what kind of quarterback he can be.
Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf asked Suns forward Jared Dudley about the idea of tanking.
Well, maybe not so much the idea of tanking, but the fact that some Suns fans (and media members) believe every win the team earns is really a bad thing for the organization.
As it goes, the more losses = more ping pong balls, and more ping pong balls = a better chance to land a top pick in this summer's draft. And unless the Suns land a superstar via the draft, odds are they won't be contending for a championship anytime soon. So yeah, isn't tanking the best course of action?
"I don't feel bad at all," Dudley said about winning games. "Because you know why? I have a job. And my job, I have to perform. If I don't, I could be out of the league."
Dudley added that he may be signed under a longer contract, but not everyone on the team can say the same thing. So, in reality, they are playing for their jobs every time they step on the court.
"If they don't perform and they don't look good performing they could be out of the NBA," he said. "So if they want to go out there and just lay down and not try -- you don't think other GMs and other executives from other teams are looking?
"This is a business; we're not worried about the lottery."
That is perfect attitude for Dudley as well as every player and coach on that roster. You don't want anyone on the floor who does not give maximum effort every chance they get, and the simple fact that the Suns have come up with wins over the likes of the Spurs, Hawks and Rockets shows that there is still some fight left in this team and, perhaps, even a little bit of talent.
But the team needs more talent. A lot more.
Winners of four of their last seven games, the Suns have seen their draft position slip, and no matter how much some might say ‘tanking' is a bad thing, it is -- and always has been -- the team's best chance at getting good again.
And they know it.
You don't bench (and then trade) a productive Sebastian Telfair in favor of Kendall Marshall if you're trying to win games. You don't move Wesley Johnson as well as both Morris twins into the starting lineup if the goal is to be as competitive as possible night in and night out.
Sure, there is something to be said for seeing what the team has in its younger players, but when you do so at the expense of playing time for proven veterans, that's called "tanking."
And it's as fine as it is long overdue.
Since 1996, when the Suns drafted Steve Nash 15th overall, they've found themselves with six lottery picks. Of those six, three were in the top 10 of the draft. Those choices included Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Luol Deng. The other three picks were 13 or worse, and the Suns got Earl Clark, Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall out of it.
Yes, teams can find talent late in the draft (see Rajon Rondo at 21), but the truth is if the Suns are to find a star, just being in the lottery isn't enough.
At the time of writing, the Suns are tied for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. According to NBADraft.net, that puts them in the range to draft someone like UNLV's Anthony Bennett, Maryland's Alex Len or Indiana's Cody Zeller or Victor Oladipo.
Franchise-altering players? Not likely, though many believe there aren't any in this draft. Potential superstars? Maybe. Valuable pieces going forward? Absolutely. But while it's better to be picking there than at the back of the lottery, it is not exactly where the Suns need to be.
"We're not worried about the lottery," Dudley said. "Think about it: a lottery pick takes jobs away from you. The better the pick, the more he has to play. So for other guys you should want to win more games; you should not want the best pick.
"Maybe management is saying, ‘Hey, if we can't make the playoffs you would love to get the number one pick', but as a player you're thinking, ‘Hey, I want to win the most games so we can do the best we can, and if it's the first pick then it's the first pick and we'd welcome him with open arms. But at the end of the day, we're fighting for our jobs and fighting to improve every day at our craft."
That is exactly how you want Dudley, his teammates and coaches to think. Their focus needs to be short-term, because nothing is guaranteed for them.
But management's eyes need to be focused on the long-term, which means doing everything it can to land the best draft pick possible. So go ahead and tank, Suns. It's for the best.
Rarely have they had a player as great as Adrian Wilson, and rarely have they had a player as great as Adrian Wilson stick around for more than a decade.
But that's what the safety did, and his 12-year run with the team officially came to an end Friday when the Cardinals announced his release.
It was no doubt a difficult decision, but it's one that many teams have made many times before. Just not the Cardinals, and that's what makes this so tough to swallow.
But it was time.
A five-time Pro Bowler, Wilson is clearly on the downside of his career. He racked up just 54 tackles in 2012 after seeing his role reduced, and it was time for the team to go in a different direction.
"All of us thank Adrian for what he has meant not only to our organization but also to this community," said Cardinals President Michael Bidwill in a press release. "In every franchise, there is a select group of players whose contributions earn them iconic status and for us, Adrian Wilson will always be one of those players."
The Cardinals never would have reached relevancy had it not been for Wilson. The Cardinals never would have won back-to-back NFC West titles had it not been for Wilson. The Cardinals never would have reached Super Bowl XLIII if not for Wilson.
But the NFL is a business, and a harsh one at that. There's little room for sentimentality if the goal is to win, and Bidwill has made it quite clear what his priority is.
So, if that means parting with a fan favorite and franchise stalwart, so be it. This is the NFL, folks, and that's what happens.
"Decisions like this are never easy but it's especially tough with someone like Adrian because he's been such a special player and important part of this organization for the last 12 years," Cardinals GM Steve Keim said in the same press release.
Wilson's intensity was unmatched, his toughness feared and his loyalty unprecedented. He was a Cardinal through and through, and when he hangs up his cleats for good there will no doubt be a place for him in the team's Ring of Honor.
Because there are not enough ways to honor someone who was a five-time team captain and is one of just six players in league history with at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions.
But that's still a few years down the road.
No doubt Wilson believes he can still play at a high level, and it would not be at all surprising to see him put together a couple more quality seasons. Putting on another team's uniform will be strange for Wilson, just as it will be weird to see him wearing any color other than Cardinal Red.
But that's life in the NFL, and it's something Cardinals fans should hope they have to start getting used to.
As the senior heads into his final game at the McKale Center, he does so as one of the most polarizing players in school history.
When he was hitting the game-winner over Florida in December he was a breath of fresh air; when he was shooting the team out of the game at UCLA last week he was a walking disaster.
So what is he, really?
Something in between.
Arizona is known for producing point guards, and no doubt Lyons will never belong with the likes of Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves, Jason Terry or Jason Gardner. But that's fine.
Lyons, who joined Arizona for one season to play point guard for the first time, has had to adjust to a new school, new team and new position on the fly. It hasn't been the smoothest of roads, but it's one he and head coach Sean Miller were right to try and navigate.
Without Lyons, Miller had no one to play point guard. And without Miller, Lyons had nowhere to go to prove he could play the position. It was a match made in heaven. Sort of.
The truth is Arizona can win with Lyons. Hell, Arizona has won with Lyons. And who knows, Arizona may again win with Lyons.
At the very least, if they do win it will be because of the point guard.
Lyons' "shoot-first" mentality is not one that fits the traditional point guard mold, but it is what the Wildcats need. Averaging a team-best 15.1 points per game on a team-most 11.3 attempts per contest, the guy certainly has a penchant for trying to score.
But that's exactly what the Wildcats need from their point guard.
Past Arizona teams would have needed a distributor, but not this one.
For all the talent it boasts, this Arizona team lacks the one thing every other great one had: a go-to scorer.
Solomon Hill is a nice and talented player, but does not have a killer mentality. Nick Johnson can score at times, but is too inconsistent. Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom and Grant Jerrett have all shown flashes, but none of that group has the skill set necessary to be counted on when a big shot is needed.
Lyons does, and it's paid dividends for Miller's club before.
In it, Miller says, "I mean, I don't give a (expletive) what other people think about him" while Lyons says, "I knew it was going to be tough, but there's no such thing as being successful with an easy route."
The Wildcats, who are ranked 18th in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls, are 23-6 with an 11-6 record in the Pac-12. With one regular season game left before the postseason begins, Lyons' story is not finished being written just yet.
If only Adam Snyder had protected Kevin Kolb half as well on the field as he does on Twitter then perhaps none of this would be necessary.
Snyder, who took to social media to defend the quarterback, is proving to us what I think we already knew: Kevin Kolb is a good guy who works his ass off and has his teammates' respect. He's incredibly tough and wants to be out on the field.
The problem is Kevin Kolb is also fragile, and has not played more than nine games in any of his six NFL seasons. You can't be a franchise QB if you can't stay on the field, no matter how talented you are.
Which, even now, we don't really know how talented Kolb is.
At 28 and having been given a nice big contract, the time for Kolb to prove himself on the field has come and gone. The coach who brought him to the team is no longer around, and the general manager who signed him to that big contract is also unemployed.
Back in May of 2011, I wrote that trading for Kolb would be Ken Whisenhunt's ‘defining decision'. If it didn't work, the coach would be out of a job.
Well the coach is out of a job, so does that mean it didn't work?
Not yet. Probably.
Kolb's time in the Valley is not officially up, unless of course he does not restructure his contract. The thinking here is he will, though, because no other team is likely to give him a shot at a starting job this season. Because for all he's done in this league (which isn't much, really), Kolb is still unproven as an NFL quarterback.
Snyder brought up Kolb's "potential", and said it's the line's job to let him show it. Without a doubt, improved play on the offensive line will go a long way towards helping Arizona's quarterbacks look better.
But even then, it's fair to wonder what Kolb would look like over a 16-game season. All we have to go off of right now is speculation based off an incredibly small sample size. Last season saw Kolb play well (vs. Seattle, vs. Philadelphia), play alright (@ New England, vs. Miami), and play not so good (@ St. Louis, vs. Buffalo).
Which one is the real Kolb? Is he a combination of the three?
While Snyder clearly disagrees with fans who take shots at Kolb, chances are good they agree in one key area: Everyone wants to see the QB have a chance to prove himself, for better or worse.
The sports headline in Wednesday's Oregonian following the Trail Blazers' 102-98 loss to the Suns Tuesday night was apparently enough to declare the team's season over.
"Time for season's obituary?"
The loss dropped Portland to 25-29 on the season. The team has lost six straight games and is currently 3.5 games out of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Yet while the loss stings, the reaction to it says more about the perception of the team that beat them.
Apparently no one should be losing to the Phoenix Suns.
There was a stretch in the 2000s where it seemed like any team the Arizona Cardinals beat would go on to fire its coach. It was almost as if a loss to the team -- to that team -- was a sign things had completely fallen apart.
Looks like a new Valley team may have taken the baton.
At 18-36, the Suns have the worst record in the Western Conference and fifth-worst mark in the NBA. They've fired their coach, made numerous lineup changes and been involved in more than their fair share of trade rumors.
Most of which, by the way, have the Suns simply pawning off useful players in exchange for draft picks and expiring contracts. It's not about a bad team getting better; it's about a real bad team getting worse.
Congratulations, Suns, for you have become a national punch line.
You're also a polarizing issue for your fans.
On one hand, a win like the one Tuesday in Portland was excellent. Phoenix had not won there since 2008, and the performances received from players like Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and even Wesley Johnson were encouraging. But, on the other hand, the win negatively affects the Suns' draft position and helped the L.A. Lakers inch a little closer to a playoff spot.
And in case you forgot, a Lakers lottery pick would belong to the Suns, so yeah, if a win can ever actually be a loss, this one may have been it.
So where does that leave the Suns?
Well, you can't get mad at players and coaches for winning games. Players need to play hard and coaches need to coach to the best of their abilities. Their respective jobs are to win games, and it would be unfair to ask anything else of them.
But management, on the other hand, can make moves strictly with an eye towards the future. If that means keeping things as they are, that's fine. There is some young talent on the roster that could be a part of Phoenix's next playoff team. And if that means dumping veterans in exchange for picks or cap space, so be it. It's all about next year and beyond, not trying to salvage this season.
Because this season has been dead for a while, and no one likes a zombie.
A friend asked how I felt about the Arizona Wildcats extending Rich Rodriguez's contract after just one season.
The move, he felt, was a bit premature. Sure, Rodriguez led the Cats to an 8-5 record that included a bowl victory, but did he really deserve a raise?
Not really, but the move had to be made. Why risk losing such a good thing?
A guest of Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf Tuesday, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he wouldn't trade his group of coaches for anyone's.
"If Texas or Florida or A&M or Ohio State called us tomorrow and said ‘hey let's trade our coaching staffs across the board', I wouldn't do it."
Rich Rodriguez for football. Sean Miller for men's basketball. Andy Lopez for baseball. Mike Candrea for softball.
It's a hell of a lineup, and other schools know it. Other schools want it.
Miller flirted with Maryland two years ago. Rodriguez was linked to the Tennessee job this year. Lopez and Candrea have certainly had chances to leave, too. Byrne knows it, and he said an effort is made to prevent defections.
"We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive," he said. "What we've done, as with Coach Rodriguez, the most we can do in the state of Arizona is have a five-year contract," Byrne said. "I understand why we do that, so what we did at the end of this year is we extended it back to five years to keep it at five."
Byrne said University of Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart and the Arizona Board of Regents supported the move. It's the best the school can do with its coaches.
It's an ABOR policy that no coach can be under contract for more than five years at a time. In theory, that mandate could inhibit the quality of coach the school is able to hire and keep around. Over at Texas, Mack Brown signed a 10-year deal, and Kentucky's John Calipari is currently working under an eight-year contract.
Quite literally, Arizona cannot compete with that. But Byrne and the school do what they can.
"Then with Coach Miller we've done the same thing...it's something that we're saying ‘hey we really like you as our coach, we believe in what you're doing,'" he said. "We'll have bumps along the way, it's not always going to be smooth sailing, but that you believe in who they are as coaches and you believe in their commitment to academics, their commitment to compliance, their commitment to doing things that give us a chance to be as successful as we can be in those sports."
And therein lies the rub.
The more successful a program is, the more likely other schools are to come looking to poach a coach. And the Wildcats have been successful of late. Just take the events of December 15, 2012 as proof.
A thrilling football victory in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl was followed up by an equally exciting win over Florida. Both games were on national TV, giving the rest of the country a glimpse of what is being built in Tucson. It was a big day for the school, which it commemorated with t-shirts. The shirt may have been a bit much, but the message was loud and clear: Good things are happening in the Old Pueblo.
"That was a special day," Byrne said. "That can continue to grow and build, and when everybody continues to understand the impact that they make by being engaged and involved in helping out our university however they can, it's going to allow us to be strong across the board."
The baseball team moved to Hi Corbett Field and went on to win the College World Series last June. The football team surprised everyone in a good way in Rodriguez's first year. The men's basketball team, as expected, is one of the best in the nation.
Arizona's momentum is very real. But momentum can be very, very fickle.
A bad season will cost fans, and losing a top-notch coach will likely cost wins. And while the Wildcats are better off now than they were when a certain columnist was attending school there from 2002 to 2006, it wouldn't take much for things to turn south.
And for his part, Byrne is doing what he can -- all he can -- to make sure they don't.
To some degree, Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby is right when he says the reaction to Michael Beasley's traffic incident is "overblown."
It is not like Beasley was drunk or high, he didn't rob anyone and no one was harmed. People get speeding tickets all the time -- especially if you are me driving a giant Buick -- and they're generally not a big deal.
But Babby is ignoring (or avoiding) one key thing with regards to Beasley's case:
Most people who get pulled over for speeding are never put in handcuffs, regardless of how short a period they were actually worn.
Beasley's latest offense is fairly minor, minus the criminal nature of driving with excessive speed and driving with expired registration. The issue, and this is something Babby acknowledged, is that someone with Beasley's track record will be judged differently than someone with a clean record.
People make mistakes and are generally forgiven because hey, nobody's perfect. But people who continually make mistakes do not get the same benefit of the doubt.
They don't deserve it. Beasley doesn't deserve it.
This is not to say the Suns should call signing Beasley a mistake and cut ties with the 24-year-old. Though inconsistent, there have been flashes of improved play lately and there is still an unbelievable amount of talent that could still be harnessed.
For a team like the Suns who are short on talent, that is not something to just toss away.
The best thing, for both the team and player, is to continue to try and work through these issues. By all accounts Beasley is a nice kid who wants to do well, but apparently just doesn't know how. That he still has plenty of growing up to do is disappointing but not surprising, and it would behoove the Suns to see if they can be the team that finally benefits from a mature Michael Beasley.
But trying to minimize Beasley's latest mistake, regardless of how minimal it may actually be, does not help anyone. Perhaps the public message differs from the private one given to the player. Hopefully it is because something has to change, and it's not the media or fans.
Certain players live under a microscope, as Babby said, and Beasley is certainly one of them. While the prevailing thought may be about leaving Beasley's past behind him, there's really no way of escaping it. That needs to be accepted, not cast aside like it has no business being there in the first place.
Michael Beasley brought the scrutiny on himself, and now he has to deal with it. Just like the Suns, who brought Michael Beasley in, have to understand that is how things are going to be; that is how things have to be.