New Year’s resolutions for the Arizona sports teams in 2022
The flip of the calendar represents opportunity: To do better and get better.
For our Valley sports squads, improvement comes in many different forms. For postseason-worthy clubs like the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns, taking the next step looks very different as 2021 ends.
For other franchises like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona Coyotes, flipping the calendar comes with hopes of flipping the results on their heads — not easy tasks for sure.
Here are what some of our local teams on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station can look forward to achieving in the new year. Let’s lend them some resolutions.
Arizona Cardinals – Let it rip
The Cardinals had the answers early on in 2021. Their three-game skid is not all about being out-schemed or figured out.
Waves of mistakes and player absences have thinned the margin for error.
It’s also killed the team’s confidence, it seems. To borrow a phrase from Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals just need to let it rip.
A lot of it starts with Kyler Murray, who has either been under pressure too much or is not seeing great options down the field with DeAndre Hopkins no longer around. The coaches could probably help him find a better rhythm by leaning more on the rushing attack that would benefit if center Rodney Hudson and power back James Conner were around to complement Chase Edmonds.
Receivers A.J. Green, Antoine Wesley and Christian Kirk will need to run the right routes, make more tough catches and generally be more in sync to give Murray reason to be confident in his crew once again.
On the defensive side, more pressure is the likes of Budda Baker and Chandler Jones to shoulder the responsibilities for the deficiencies created by injuries up front and at cornerback. Maybe the team’s stars will need to drag Arizona out of this slump, but with two regular season games to go, the Cardinals still have enough on paper to reach the playoffs feeling a lot better about themselves than now, as 2021 ends.
Phoenix Suns – Learn new ways to win
The Suns have risen to the top tier of NBA teams. Maybe others can eventually find ways to join them and the Golden State Warriors.
Until then, Phoenix has the rest of the regular season to tinker. COVID-19 issues could force them to do it organically.
They have a culture, an identity and the ability to play it safe with injuries while finding new ways to win.
Can they go small, putting three perimeter ball handlers on the court at the same time? Can second-year forward Jalen Smith take enough steps to give them some extra pop as a speedier, floor-spacing big? Does a notable addition appear on the trade or buyout markets, giving the Suns something new to throw at opponents?
It seems Phoenix will be able to make a solid playoff run. Once there, how it throws a team like Golden State for a schematic loop or survives an injury or absence during a long playoff series can be planned for. Coach Monty Williams can learn a lot about his team in the next few months.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Play ball
Playing baseball would be good — it’s also dependent on whether Major League Baseball and the players union can ramp up talks with meaningful conversation prior to spring training. That looks grim at this point, based on the tone of each of those groups heading into a cold war this winter.
If and when baseball is back, the Diamondbacks will need to be creative to draw interest. Whether that’s about building up prospects or finding enough veteran pieces available to turn an ugly 2021 around remains to be seen, although the signing of Mark Melancon just before the freeze hinted toward Arizona going for a quick rebuild.
Arizona State football – Resolve and move forward
It’s not easy because the NCAA works at its own speed (slowly), but it’s possible to keep a program afloat during such investigations. The Arizona Wildcats hit a recruiting lull with their basketball program under the microscope recently, and then-coach Sean Miller went the international route to bring in talent. Those players have developed quickly even after Miller was replaced by Tommy Lloyd.
Now, that sport and situation is obviously different, but with ASU committing to head coach Herm Edwards into next year, it’s evidence that it’s possible to lean on new recruiting ideas to survive a scandal.
For Arizona State, that has meant leaning more on the transfer portal, but what can’t happen is allowing the high school recruiting issues to continue into the next class. In football, that just can’t happen.
The Sun Devils probably can’t control how soon the NCAA investigation ends, but it can determine the fates of the assistant coaches who were involved, hire replacements who can reignite the recruiting and move forward. That’s easier said than done, but Edwards’ ultimate fate in getting past this begins there.
Arizona Coyotes – Create sources of optimism
The wins probably won’t come in large bunches for the rest of the season, but the Coyotes can use 2022 to provide hope that such seasons won’t happen again.
First and foremost, officially landing on an interim home base for 2022-23 would be a start as the team leaves Gila River Arena and awaits certifying that a parcel of space in Tempe will be a long-term option.
From there, seeing more consistency from Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, the only players on long-term contracts besides Jakob Chychrun, or flashes from more unknowns like Karel Vejmelka would give ‘Yotes fans something to be optimistic about. But on a team lacking premier young talent outside of star defenseman Jakob Chychrun, the big project is for general manager Bill Armstrong to reload in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Arizona at the moment owns eight picks in the first two rounds of 64 players. Armstrong hitting on more than a few would juice the Coyotes’ outlook on the ice.
Arizona State men’s basketball – Get the backcourt on track
While D.J. Horne has been a consistent sniper for the Sun Devils, the backcourt duo that was expected to lead the team has fallen far from the expectations. Bobby Hurley hasn’t been shy about Marreon Jackson’s and Luther Muhammad’s struggles in their first year playing for ASU.
Jackson and Muhammad are each shooting below 30% for the season, and even a bump to a still-not-great 40% would make a giant difference for an Arizona State team that’s been scrappy defensively but just not up-to-par on offense.