Photos that define 2018 in Arizona sports
“It’s probably a safe bet to assume Arizona sports fans are excited to move on from 2017.”
This is our lede from last year’s edition. Yeesh, we really didn’t know how bad it could get, huh?
This year has been a rough one for Arizona sports.
Let’s try to get through 2018 by looking at the most telling photos from this year.
The year started for the Cardinals with the retirement of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, and the year ends with concerns about the two individuals that replaced them.
Is Steve Wilks the coach of the Arizona Cardinals when this year finishes up? Signs point to no, as it has been evident since the team’s first game that Wilks’ team was miles behind where it needed to be.
Injuries have ravaged the Cardinals for the second straight season, but Wilks’ lack of answers in his first year as a head coach doesn’t bode well for his future.
And what about not only the rest of his staff, but general manager Steve Keim?
Wilks’ and Keim’s job security are under bigger risk when you consider rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and how much the Cardinals need to prioritize putting the No. 10 pick in the right positions to succeed.
Rosen’s 2018 has been discouraging. He’s thrown more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (10), and while his footwork and movement in the pocket is impressive, his ball accuracy has left more to be desired.
Like the team’s season as a whole, though, Rosen’s struggles can be blamed on the changes around him. From an offensive line that couldn’t stay healthy to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy being fired after Week 6, a lackluster season out of David Johnson didn’t help, either. Oh, yeah, remember Sam Bradford crashing and burning too?
How much Rosen’s poor play was on his surroundings as much as it was on himself as a quarterback will tell the story of the Cardinals’ 2019 and if their quarterback of the present can still grow into the quarterback of the future.
Oh, how quick we are to forget the Diamondbacks were the best story in baseball 35 games in.
In what has to go down as one of the most puzzling and confounding seasons in Arizona sports history, the D-backs went from 24-11 to completely melting down after a Labor Day weekend nightmare in Los Angeles.
Arizona’s bullpen, led by fan favorite Archie Bradley and relative unknowns Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano, went from baseball’s best in the first half of the season to one of the worst from August on.
Even after the team added Eduardo Escobar, Jon Jay and a healthy Steven Souza Jr., an offensive lineup loaded with talent never clicked and failed to be anything better than mediocre.
In a wide-open National League, the D-backs were poised for a pennant run in early May. By early September, they were chasing a Wild Card spot, a chase that came up embarrassingly short and forced general manager Mike Hazen to zoom out and take the team’s current trajectory under serious consideration.
That brought on the unpopular decision to trade one of the franchise’s best players ever. The Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt and his expiring contract to the St. Louis Cardinals. With pitcher Patrick Corbin receiving $140 million from the Washington Nationals, the D-backs went from being seven games away from a World Series birth in 2017 to attempting to quickly reset with a turbo rebuild in the 2018 offseason.
When you lose 32 of your last 36 games to end the season, sometimes you land the big fella.
The Suns won the NBA Draft Lottery and selected Arizona big man Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick.
Ayton’s vibrant personality mixed with the off-the-charts potential to be one of the NBA’s best centers is a dynamic combination to watch unfold over the next several years.
Phoenix also traded for the draft rights to promising defensive star Mikal Bridges, cementing in the Suns’ future core of Ayton, Bridges, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren.
The ingredients are there, and it’s now on first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov and the organization to brew a winner out of the team’s high level of young talent.
January might tell us a different tale, but December shows a Suns team starting to find its identity. With Ayton, Booker and Warren providing the offensive skill, the likes of Bridges, Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Richaun Holmes and Kelly Oubre Jr. bring superior defensive length, intensity and athleticism. Through that, Phoenix won four in a row for the first time since March of 2015.
The role players have begun to rub off on the stars, leading to Booker playing the best defense of his career over that stretch and Ayton beginning to improve with his reactions as the anchor of a defense.
If the Suns make the pivot out of a rebuilding team into actual competitiveness and winning, a four-game run in December of 2018 will be remembered as the launching point. All of that will be without former general manager Ryan McDonough, who was fired nine days before the start of the season and will have to watch the team he mostly built grow without him.
The Coyotes’ 2018 is defined by what has plagued them: inconsistency.
After the worst start in franchise history last season, Rick Tocchet’s squad was a playoff team in the last two months.
For the 2018-19 season, though, the Coyotes have won or lost at least three games in a row on six different occasions, and that’s as of the team being only 36 games into the season.
General manager John Chayka is still trying to construct his ideal roster.
While the Coyotes certainly have young talent, Chayka has blended in pricey veterans like Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan.
He’s also consistently shuffling his roster, most notably shipping out Max Domi in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk and former lottery picks Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome to acquire Nick Schmaltz.
With certainty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the only clear long-term piece the Coyotes hold, and he was already in the Valley when Chayka was hired in May of 2016.
How his young pieces develop, particularly Clayton Keller currently going through a disappointing sophomore campaign, will shape the future of the team and how Chayka continues to switch things up.
Arizona State Sun Devils
If you don’t have a seat on the train, I’ve got some bad news for you — it has reached full capacity.
First-year head coach Herm Edwards is clearly onto something in Tempe, finishing with a 7-6 record and undoubtedly being the biggest surprise of the Arizona sports year.
With great freshmen contributors this season and another strong recruiting class coming in next year, the train isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Bobby Hurley’s team nearly submarined out of the NCAA Tournament last season after a 12-0 start, losing five of their last six games before the big dance.
That, unpredictably, led to a first-round loss against Syracuse.
With three senior guards on the way out, a rebuilding year seemed likely for Hurley. But with sensational freshman Luguentz Dort, a much improved Kimani Lawrence and the versatile Zylan Cheatham, Arizona State started the year 8-2 and once again ranked in the top-25.
A home win over No. 1 Kansas only added to the thought that the Sun Devils could be the class of a murky and perhaps mediocre Pac-12.
The story for the Wildcats last season should have been one of their most talented rosters of all time, featuring No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton and all-around scoring machine Allonzo Trier.
But an FBI investigation into college basketball’s corruption prominently featured Arizona and head coach Sean Miller, including assistant coach Book Richardson being arrested and awaiting to take the stand in April.
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.
Once the very large, ugly cloud over the program faded, it was back to business as usual. Miller has 2019’s top recruiting class.
Perhaps the biggest overall disappointment of the 2018 Arizona sports year was Khalil Tate.
Tate was seen as not only a potential Heisman finalist in the preseason, but the favorite for many.
Instead, due to injury or otherwise, Tate lost his rushing ability that made him potent last year and the Wildcats took a huge dip, finishing 5-7 and blowing one of the most unforgettable Territorial Cup finishes ever.