Around the holidays, we should always try to focus on the things we take for granted: More time with loving family (or at least our pets), what things we do have and what we can take from 2020 to have a better 2021.
The sporting world pushed through the pandemic and here in Arizona gave us at least some distraction if not a lot of hope.
Arizona’s teams were, if anything, entertaining. A few of them provided grand surprises.
What were the most shocking gifts that the Arizona sports scene unwrapped in 2020?
Really, DeAndre Hopkins?
Imagine searching for a PlayStation 5 the day it was released and finding out that Best Buy not only has one available, but it’s marked down from $500 to $100. For some inexplicable reason, you are the only person to happen upon this deal.
Best Buy does not recognize this is an error in price when you put the console in your cart. You purchase it, and Best Buy sends you the very real, brand new PS5 for $100.
This is how the Arizona Cardinals acquired the NFL’s current leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, in mid-March to kick off the new league year. All it took was unloading of David Johnson’s contract to get it done. Arizona traded this year’s second-round pick to the Houston Texans, and the teams swapped fourth-rounders as well.
Johnson has five total touchdowns with 479 rushing yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 267 receiving yards for the Texans. He’s not been the true bell-cow and hasn’t crossed the 100-yard rushing mark so far. He’s fine — fine for a lot of money.
Hopkins, meanwhile, has not missed a game. He’s amassed 1,324 receiving yards to lead the NFL with two weeks left. He’s got a game-winning Hail Murray and scored a game-winning touchdown in his last outing, in which he recorded 169 receiving yards, a career-high with Arizona.
The Cardinals claim he and quarterback Kyler Murray will only get better as time goes on. We believe them.
Anyway, it is possible Bill O’Brien is now working at Best Buy.
Suns bubble run
The NBA bubble was unbearable for some players. Isolation can get to you.
The Phoenix Suns saw the Disney World stay as a gift. They leaned into it, came out firing and grew with one another holed up in a Florida resort.
Maybe the Suns didn’t get to the playoffs after an 8-0 run, but internally it mattered. It mattered that Cam Johnson essentially had a mini-sophomore season having time to reflect and build on his year before the global pandemic postponed the NBA season in March. It mattered that Cam Payne reunited with coach Monty Williams with his NBA career in jeopardy and took full advantage with Phoenix, which was still searching for a backup point guard.
Devin Booker’s game-winner against the Los Angeles Clippers might’ve been his national arrival moment after developing into an All-Star in relative anonymity with the Suns rarely on national TV.
Where would the Suns be had the regular finished out like any other year? It’s hard to say.
It’s also hard to argue they could be in a much better spot than they are as the 2020-21 season begins.
Why not pay for CP3?
The bubble performance might be like the bubble wrap in importance when it comes to what the Suns pulled off this year.
The Disney World performance was fun in the moment but ultimately necessary to help Phoenix deliver the actual gift: The blockbuster trade for point guard Chris Paul.
It was a big surprise, too.
Who thought the Suns, with their spending history over the last decade and recent sale of their G League team, would take on one of the biggest contracts in the NBA? This guy did not.
Phoenix is currently close-ish to the luxury tax threshold, showing a commitment to winning with a core of Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
The Suns are only one game into the new season. Already, the impact Paul is bringing in theory should accelerate the team’s growth. Also, he’s coming off an All-Star campaign at 35 years old.
From afar, how the Suns played and finished their 2019-20 season in the bubble mattered to players like Paul. He certainly had a say in where the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him.
With Paul on the roster, it made selling veteran free agents like Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore an easy pitch.
Zac Gallen’s breakout
Maybe it was a year to forget for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered a wonky season with high expectations and new ace Madison Bumgarner.
While there were many disappointing trends, from Ketel Marte’s drop-off after a breakout campaign to Bumgarner’s massive struggles, there was this: Zac Gallen affirmed baseball experts’ predictions that he was about to break out as a top-caliber pitcher.
The 25-year-old went 3-2 over 12 starts with a 2.75 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
He was a top-20 pitcher in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts per nine frames. Gallen didn’t get much run support, but he finished sixth among starting pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR).
The D-backs have a lot to sort out heading into 2021. Gallen appears to be their best thing going, and it’ll be a big storyline of whether he is their ace or if Bumgarner can make his second year in the desert more about success on the diamond than success in the rodeo world.
Haason Reddick’s breakthrough
This might be the best local sports surprise of the year when it comes down to the dude involved.
Haason Reddick got jostled between positions, schemes and coaches over his first three seasons in the NFL. He didn’t get his fifth-year option picked up by the Cardinals heading into 2020 and didn’t complain.
The target for fans quick to apply the bust label, Reddick quieted the critics.
As the Cardinals lost elite pass-rusher Chandler Jones for the year, Reddick has blown up with more opportunity. He’s tied for fifth in the NFL with 11.0 sacks and tied for fourth with 14.0 tackles for loss.
Reddick was approached multiple times each year prior to this one about adjusting to an off-ball linebacker role. He never complained about his role to reporters and always remained optimistic about the eventual outcome.
And when he finally moved back to a pass-rushing role last year, he took that same mindset into learning a position that came more naturally to him.
According to his coaches, that wasn’t just being polite to the media. Reddick never complained to them either. He was always just trying to help the team.
So when his five-sack performance re-set the Cardinals franchise record two weeks ago against the New York Giants, it made for one of the best moments this year.