The 5: The biggest concern for the Valley’s five biggest teams
If you’re a Valley sports fan, you feel angst. Your teams have combined for one championship in their collective histories, they have suffered long stretches of leanness and they have endured a collection of gut-wrenching disappointments from Santonio Holmes’ catch to Joe Germaine’s drive to John Paxson’s shot.
What is most concerning about your present-day teams? We took a shot at answering that question. There are arguments to be made for other areas, and these concerns may shift as circumstances change, but for now, we identified these as the biggest concerns for each of the Valley’s five major teams.
Cardinals: The offensive line
When training camp opened, replacing defensive lineman Calais Campbell, filling the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson, keeping John Brown healthy and Carson Palmer’s aging body were the biggest concerns. They’ll remain concerns until the season dispels them, but if the offensive line isn’t up to snuff, Palmer’s offseason arm management won’t matter because he’ll be running for his life. Jared Veldheer has struggled in his move to right tackle after so many years and so much muscle memory on the opposite side. Left guard Mike Iupati has been uneven, and now he’s hurt. Right guard Evan Boehm and left tackle D.J. Humphries are unknown commodities, and center A.Q. Shipley is just too small. It’s not fair to judge this unit entirely off the preseason and camp, but there are visible red flags.
Diamondbacks: An epic collapse
At the midpoint of their season on June 30, the Diamondbacks were 50-31. They held a two and a half-game lead over the Rockies for the top wild card spot, a nine and a half-game lead over the Cubs for the remaining wild card spot and fans were lamenting the fact that Arizona did not play in the National League Central where it would have a comfortable division lead. Less than two months later, the Diamondbacks have slipped to 69-58 (before Thursday’s game), they had a half-game lead on Colorado, a three and a half-game lead on the Brewers (the Cubs lead the NL Central and have a better winning percentage than Arizona) and there is widespread panic that they will somehow miss the postseason. Fortunately for Arizona, Milwaukee has played just .500 baseball since June 30, Colorado is 20-24 since then and the Diamondbacks still have time to right the ship.
Suns: No superstars
Former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni simplified the formula for winning NBA championships. “You either have the best players or you don’t win.” To put it more simply, you either have one of the league’s seven or eight best players or you don’t win. It’s been that way at least since the Michael Jordan era. The Bulls had Jordan, the Rockets had Hakeem Olajuwon, the Lakers had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Spurs had Tim Duncan, the Celtics had Kevin Garnett, the Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki, the Heat and Cavs had LeBron James, and the Warriors had Stephen Curry and now Kevin Durant. The Suns don’t have one of the league’s top 10 players. Don’t kid yourself that they do. Maybe simply making it back to the playoffs after a seven-year hiatus should be the first goal, but what then? Maybe the more prudent move is to keep losing until they get that guy.
Coyotes: Right wings
Jakob Chychrun’s injury has cast a damper over the defense, but there was no guarantee Chychrun was going to be ready to move into the second pairing this season. He’s still just 19 years old. The Coyotes can survive by keeping Alex Goligoski on the left side and sliding either Luke Schenn or Adam Clendening alongside him. It’s unclear what the plan is at right wing after the team elected to move on from Radim Vrbata. It sounds like general manager John Chayka wanted to make one more deal in his busy summer of reshaping the roster. That hasn’t happened yet, so the Coyotes have a depth chart of Anthony Duclair, Tobias Rieder, Christian Fischer and maybe Nick Cousins, a left-wing transplant or even Emerson Etem. Duclair, a restricted free agent, hasn’t signed yet and he’s coming off a five-goal season. Rieder is a converted left wing and Fischer is the only right-handed shot. This group needs some more tinkering.
Sun Devil football: The secondary
By now, everyone knows the details. Arizona State finished with the worst passing defense in the nation last season. Phil Bennett replaced Keith Patterson as defensive coordinator, and the underperforming unit was further decimated by the losses of safety Armand Perry (retired for health reasons) and cornerback Kareem Orr (transferred to Tennessee-Chattanooga). ASU will go to battle this season with a young and inexperienced defensive backfield against a Pac-12 schedule that features quarterbacks Sam Darnold (USC), Jake Browning (Washington) and Josh Rosen (UCLA), whom most publications rank among the nation’s 10 best QBs.