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Arizona Sports’ biggest stories of 2018

The following is a collection of news-driven headlines that got the most attention from our readers, plus the background that linked them to the biggest stories of 2018.

D-backs’ Souza: Cubs 1B Rizzo said ‘I needed to learn how to slide’

(AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Arizona attempted to fill the loss of 2017 midseason acquisition J.D. Martinez by trading for Steven Souza Jr. heading into 2018. While injuries to Souza and other D-backs outfielders magnified the loss of Martinez in a season in which Arizona didn’t have enough to make the playoffs, Souza created the biggest D-backs hullabaloo of 2018 with his aggressive baserunning.

Twice — once against the Dodgers and another time against the Cubs — Souza incited anger from the opponent due to his physical style. Against Chicago, it led to an in-game back-and-forth between Souza and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, one that continued after the fact.

“I do find it funny that the same guy who slides hard into catchers and had some problems earlier in the year told me I need to learn how to slide,” Souza told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta.

Cardinals fan Blake Shelton uses ‘The Voice’ promo to recruit Kirk Cousins

As host of “The Voice,” country music star Blake Shelton can do what he wants, including recruiting efforts for his favorite team, the Arizona Cardinals, who were in need of a quarterback after Carson Palmer’s retirement following the 2017 season.

“I want to say to Kirk Cousins, if he’s watching out there, we want you in Arizona,” Shelton said. “We want you to be the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.”

Well, that didn’t happen.

Cousins was indeed a target of Arizona, which inquired about the free agent’s availability before quickly shifting gears to sign Sam Bradford to a $15 million deal over a year. Bradford was benched four games in and waived soon after, while Cousins has put together a steady season after signing with the Minnesota Vikings.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker having hand surgery, out indefinitely

After a hand injury ended his 2017-18 season prematurely, Suns star Devin Booker was expected to be healthy heading into 2018-19. He signed a max contract extension in the summer but had a surprise surgery on his hand in early September, taking him out of training camp.

He returned just in time for the season opener, relieving some fears that the often-injured 22-year-old wouldn’t be able to help Phoenix at the jump. A lingering hamstring issue took 10 games from him so far this year, but Booker again returned looking refreshed in mid-December as his game took on another evolution as a primary initiator playing in first-year coach Igor Kokoskov’s offense.

Cardinals on verge of mutiny heading into Thursday Night Football

The Cardinals looked lost in their first two games under new head coach Steve Wilks. They lost by a combined five points the third and fourth games, beat the lowly San Francisco 49ers in their fifth and competed with the Vikings in their sixth. A Thursday Night Football home game on Oct. 18 looked like a time to prey on a Denver Broncos team with rumblings of a coaching change upcoming. Instead, it marked a point of no return for the team under Wilks.

Linebacker Von Miller promised the Broncos would beat the Cardinals well and good, and that they did in a 45-10 win at State Farm Stadium.

The blowback came with the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy just after the game. More came the next week when reports said cornerback Patrick Peterson was searching for avenues out of Arizona before the trade deadline.

Arizona Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson issues statement on trade request

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“I’ve been incredibly frustrated with how the season has gone,” Peterson wrote. “But my energy is 100% focused on being part of the solution and helping us turn this around. I’ve never shied away from a challenge before and I’m not starting now. I have always given my all to the Cardinals organization, my teammates and fans. That is what I intend to do for the years to come. I am an Arizona Cardinal, and my focus is on this weeks game.”

In his first meeting with media after reports of his displeasure leaked, Peterson wouldn’t answer if he’d feel the same way after the year.

He’d later refute former NFL star Deion Sanders, who said on a television broadcast that Peterson still wanted out of Arizona.

“I want to follow in that man’s shoes,” he said of receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has spent his entire NFL career with Arizona. “He’s been here forever, 15 years, and been a cornerstone of this Arizona Cardinals organization. I feel like I’m next in line. We’ll see what happens.”

D-backs’ Lovullo: Poor word choice angered Yadier Molina

(Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Torey Lovullo would say that he’s an emotional sort of manager. And sometimes expressive word choice gets taken personally.

The D-backs manager didn’t take kindly to the call of the home plate umpire in an April game against the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was particularly upset that catcher Yadier Molina’s pitch-framing might have been influencing the calls.

Molina didn’t enjoy Lovullo’s word choice, and it led to a kerfuffle at the plate.

“I just was going out there to talk about something with the umpire. I was referencing something (Molina did) and was referencing something and used a poor choice of words and he took offense to it. It really wasn’t directed at him,” Lovullo said after the game.

“I just said, ‘What’s going on here?’ and maybe threw in a really description adjective.”

Deandre Ayton will work out for ‘no one else’ after meeting with Suns

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Deandre Ayton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Suns, and that was hardly a surprise.

He went to high school in the Valley and to college at Arizona. A majority of NBA Draft experts believed he’d go first in the draft. General manager Ryan McDonough’s pick looked fairly easy despite talented players like Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and others in the running to be selected first.

But the Suns couldn’t even hide their thought process when they rolled out the red carpet for Ayton’s only pre-draft team workout.

“I know I’m going number one,” Ayton said after it, admitting he wouldn’t work out for another team.

Phoenix made that comment prophetic (or maybe Ayton was just told the Suns were taking him) by drafting the big man and then trading up to acquire 3-and-D wing Mikal Bridges 10th overall. Both have cemented their spots in the Suns’ rotation.

Call it robbery: Cardinals hit home run with trade, pick of QB Josh Rosen

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Finally, the Cardinals got their quarterback of the future.

A year after getting jumped in the draft by teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected quarterback Patrick Mahomes 10th in 2017, the Cardinals traded from 15th to 10th to draft UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen.

The price to the Oakland Raiders: the No. 15 pick, which was used to select offensive tackle Kolton Miller, plus the 79th overall pick and 152nd overall pick.

Arizona Diamondbacks trade Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis Cardinals

(Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

It didn’t come as a surprise the D-backs traded their star first baseman.

A year remained on Goldschmidt’s contract, and the team’s financial commitments meant signing him long-term would be nearly impossible. So Arizona shipped Goldschmidt to St. Louis in exchange for catcher Carson Kelly and right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver, who could contribute right away. The Diamondbacks also received infielder Andrew Young and a 2019 competitive balance round B draft pick.

Goldschmidt departs amid a retooling that also saw free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin ink with the Washington Nationals and center fielder A.J. Pollock search out a big payday elsewhere.

Former Suns PG Steve Nash: Luka Doncic ‘is a dream prospect’

It was the great debate of the 2018 NBA Draft. Deandre Ayton vs. Doncic.

Well, a majority of Phoenix fans didn’t think it was a debate. They believed it was a no-brainer for the Suns to draft Ayton, but every now and then, some draft analyst or coach or player would play devil’s advocate. Former Sun and two-time MVP Steve Nash was one of those people.

“I think Luka is a dream prospect,” Nash told Yahoo Sports. “Big and mobile enough in the modern game and can guard multiple positions. He has a skillset, a winning mentality and leadership qualities.”

Brandon Knight gains new perspective on life, basketball and future with Suns

Brandon Knight arrived amid turmoil, because of Phoenix’s failed experiment with point guards Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. He never meshed with Bledsoe.

Injuries nagged at him and his worst NBA season came after former coach Earl Watson benched him.

But when an ACL injury took his 2017-18 season, perspective set in.

“When I went through (the injury) I was kind of like, why? Why, why, why? But, as you can see, I think, and a lot of people will tell you, I think I’ve grown as an individual off the court, which I think will help when it comes to trying to lead guys on the court.

“I always knew I wanted to be a better leader,” Knight continued, “but it was tough when I was so involved in, alright, basketball, basketball, basketball. But when I had time to sit back and really reflect (on) ‘How do you become a leader?’ you have to build those relationships. You have to take time to build certain trust with people, inside and outside the organization.”

Knight never got the chance to prove that patience pays off. He was traded before the 2018-19 season along with Marquese Chriss to the Houston Rockets for rookie guard De’Anthony Melton and veteran forward Ryan Anderson. Knight has just entered Houston’s rotation in mid-December after a lengthy recovery and Chriss has hardly gotten off the bench. In Phoenix, Anderson has been pushed out of the rotation, while Melton has earned a key role for the Suns.

Arians on TD Fantasy Podcast: Cards are improperly using David Johnson

Many of the Cardinals’ woes in 2018 have been due to reasons outside of their control. This wasn’t one of them.

Running back David Johnson returned after missing almost all of 2017 with a wrist injury, but he was deployed less creatively under new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians didn’t hide his thoughts on the matter. Arians squeezed a historic 2016 out of Johnson (1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards), and he didn’t go lightly on how Arizona was using Johnson.

“I don’t think it’s going to get any worse,” Arians said when asked about the team turning to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. “It can only be better, I would think right now, pushing the ball up the field. I just don’t like the use of David Johnson in this offense. David Johnson is a premier wide receiver and I don’t see him out of the backfield creating the mismatches that he should be out creating and opening up things for Larry Fitzgerald.”

Former Cardinal Carson Palmer headlines NFL All-Retirement team

Arians’ retirement coincided with Palmer’s. The quarterback took himself out of the limelight entirely, and his Instagram account shows just how ready he was to set his NFL career aside.

Arizona Cardinals fire OC Mike McCoy, promote Byron Leftwich

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Another bit of fallout from the Cardinals’ loss to the Broncos was the firing of McCoy.

Quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, a holdover from the Arians era, took the reins of the offense heading into a Week 8 game against San Francisco. Arizona has showed some improvement in the run game in the back-half of the season, but Rosen’s struggles and offensive line injuries have hardly made it a controlled situation to judge the green OC.

Kelly Oubre Jr. would provide great return for Suns, restarts wing logjam

After a failed trade of forward Trevor Ariza that was nixed on a miscommunication between the Suns and Grizzlies about which Brooks (MarShon or Dillon) Phoenix would receive, co-interim GM James Jones shipped Ariza to the Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers.

Rivers was waived, but the Suns got immediate satisfaction from Oubre, who said he wanted to destroy and kill every one of his opponents, blew kisses to a rowdy Boston crowd, then hit a game-sealer against the Celtics in his debut.

That game marked Phoenix’s fourth win in a row, a sign the team might’ve turned a corner under first-year coach Igor Kokoskov.

There’s a first time for everything: Larry Fitzgerald spikes the ball

Fitz was frustrated. And for the first time in 15 years, he spiked the football after a score.

Arizona State earns first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014

Bobby Hurley’s boys earned an NCAA Tournament berth with a depth-less roster, giving the ASU basketball program a bit of momentum heading into the 2018-19 season, where another fast start earned the Sun Devils a top-25 ranking.

ESPN’s Bilas: ‘I trust Mark Schlabach’s report’ on Arizona’s Sean Miller

The University of Arizona didn’t. An ESPN report suggested UA coach Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing an impermissible payment to Ayton, but investigations by the university cleared both of any wrongdoing. Ayton didn’t miss any games. But Miller missed one and then returned with a furious denial that was backed by the school.

The Wildcats were mentioned time and time again in the federal trial that led to the sentencing of three people involved with corruption in college basketball, and though former Arizona assistant Book Richardson is expected to take the stand in April, Arizona’s basketball program has gone full-bore ahead.

Miller has the top recruiting class in 2019 incoming, and the university continues to support him in full.

ASU defense shines, Ruiz hits game-winner in upset of Michigan State

Herm Edwards was officially on the map heading into the season.

But it wasn’t until this game he was on the map as a competent and even very good college head football coach.

Phoenix Suns fire general manager Ryan McDonough

In a move that surprised everyone and no one, the Suns fired their GM nine days before the season started — after it had allowed him to manage the team through the hiring of Kokoskov and the drafting of four rookies.

Coyotes officially sign Oliver Ekman-Larsson to 8-year extension

The Coyotes locked in their new captain for the long-term. So far this year, a group put together by the busy last few years for general manager John Chayka has been streaky.

Injuries, especially in net, have played a part in the year so far.

Arizona has four streaks of four or more wins or losses in a row this year, accounting for a large chunk of their schedule.

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