There's intrigue afoot in Arizona. All four of the major sports franchises in town are currently going through significant turmoil, from free agent losses to ownership uncertainty to front office turnover to left-handed quarterbacks. The drama goes on and on in a nauseating reality show fashion until the average fan has no choice but to confront its ugly face and talk about it.
It's trying times to be a fan of Arizona sports, no doubt. All the comfortable surroundings to which we've grown accustomed are being ripped away and replaced with cold, harsh changes whose end game is currently ambiguous.
The Suns, Diamondbacks, Coyotes and Cardinals are all heretofore unknown quantities and it makes us edgy, damn it. As fans, we want our sports teams nicely packaged, preferably talented, and available to us for a nice bit of escapism. We don't want them stressing us out and making things all topsy-turvy for us, with our already topsy-turvy lives in this crap-ass economy.
But, too bad. It's all part of the fabric of sports. It gives us blog-fodder for the offseason.
So what's on tap, drama-wise, for our favorite franchises?
The Phoenix Suns
Until a couple of days ago, the Phoenix Suns seemed like they'd be the biggest heartbreakers of the year.
They had a magical soul-soothing run to the Western Conference Finals last season after no one expected squat out of them. They played together like they were in love with the sport all anew -- a spring (well, fall-winter-spring) romance with a leather ball.
Amar'e Stoudemire, at least after the All-Star break, played like one of the league's gods, shoving basketballs down the throats of the unsuspecting. Stoudemire assured us all that Phoenix was Plan A and that he wanted to be back if Phoenix would have him. Like all lovers with a foot out the door and an affair brewing, Stoudemire was keeping options open in case one stopped putting out.
Before he could be properly negotiated with, general manager Steve Kerr -- who had spent the last year or so repairing his Shaq- and Kurt Thomas-damaged reputation with a slew of nicely developing draft picks and savvy trades -- decided, out of thin air, that the job wasn't for him anymore and walked away.
With Kerr gone and the future of the franchise in question, Stoudemire made a decision: Boom, he was outta here for the big lights of the Big Apple, ready to run less successful picks-and-rolls with the likes of Ray Felton and Toney Douglas.
How were the Suns going to replace 23 points, nine rebounds, and 15 to 20 lackadaisical plays a game? The answer's obvious: by picking up approximately 63 forwards (total count still being tallied by team coaches).
Can trade pick-up Hedo Turkoglu, free agents Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, and draftees Gani Lawal and Dwayne Collins compensate for Stoudemire?
The team is hoping and praying/desperately-pleading with Basketball Jesus that a Voltron platoon of good-but-not-great players can reasonably function in lieu of a five-time All-Star and that the rest of the league won't notice.
The Suns chug forward under the luxury tax threshold, with some payroll flexibility in their pockets, while remaining playoff-bound. The Suns need stars, eventually, to have any shot at a title. Where will they come from? Clark? Lopez? Dragic? Trade? Draft? Or are they content to toe the playoff line indefinitely but never experience the super-sexy glory of an NBA title?
The Arizona Diamondbacks
The trials and travails of our resident Major League Baseball team have been well documented here and across the vast media trail of the Grand Canyon State.
Basically, the D-backs' front office was duped into overpaying a bunch of young, unproven players who teased them with "potential" and "upside" during the reasonably successful 2007 season. A future core of Eric Byrnes, Chris Snyder, and Chris Young was locked down to lead the Snakes into a bright future filled with ... dwelling the cellar of the NL West.
Byrnes and Snyder both tanked the following season, saddled with significant time on the disabled list. They combined that with spectacularly pedestrian play. Byrnes was cut from the D-backs, then cut from the Mariners and is currently a beer-league softball rock star. Snyder's still hanging out, batting a pretty mediocre .240 and constantly battling with up-and-comer Miguel Montero for the starting catcher position. Young struggled mightily last season, even being demoted to the minors for a stint. Of the three, at least Young's kinda-sorta of playing up to his contract. He's had something resembling a renaissance this season, even being named a by-default All-Star.
Despite the precedent, however, the Snakes' front office jumped right in and preemptively struck at Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds before this season, and they may be following the same pattern. Upton and Reynolds are now on tap for a combined 4,536 strikeouts (estimated) and a combined .237 batting average. Either player is good on their own, but together they're a strikeout force the likes of which has yet to be invented by Moneyball statisticians.
Of course, lots of fans were on board with these signings when they occurred and the D-backs just guessed wrong with a crapshoot proposition -- baseball's salary structure and arbitration process makes it very risky for any team when it comes to draftees and farm system products.
Ultimately, the unusually high salaries for the young bats led to unusually low salaries for pitchers, both of the starting and bullpen varieties. It's no surprise that this year's relievers have been historically bad, and that's probably because most of them are guys who'd never make the major league roster of your average team.
Not only did the players under perform, but the newbie manager, A.J. Hinch, couldn't get through to them how important it was to do baseball things like hit balls, not strike out, throw strikes, not commit errors... you know, all that boring minutia.
Eventually, general manager Josh Byrnes and Hinch paid for the missteps with their jobs. Interim GM Jerry Dipoto and interim manager Kirk Gibson are there to steer the ship now, but it's a cracked-hull ship with diseased rats scurrying about and giving everyone dysentery.
Baseball in the desert faces an overcast, stormy future with a gelatinous roster and no permanent front office in place to shape it. There's talent on the team for sure, but right now it's more like Frankenstein than functional human.
The Phoenix Coyotes
The ‘Yotes are a bit of a head-scratcher. They've got the most talent they've ever had. And it's cohesive, game-winning talent. They've had a Ken Whisenhunt-like turnaround in head coaching competency, with Dave Tippett actually knowing how to instruct five guys on skates to emerge victorious from hockey games. They're coming off the most successful season in franchise history and have had a taste of what home game sell-outs are like. They've had a fairly successful offseason thus far, in which they've prevented heavy free agent hemorrhaging.
But the NHL still owns them, and would like to not own them any longer.
At first, the NHL wanted to keep hockey in Phoenix. But the buyers market in the desert is kind of dry, like most everything else here. The NHL's getting anxious to sell the team to just about anyone with the cash to buy it, whether they're in Phoenix, Winnepeg, or Guadalajara.
Progress between the NHL and prospective buyer Ice Edge Holdings has been going steadily nowhere for a while now, even though IEH has supposedly secured financing.
The team is beginning to capture the interest of a wider fanbase in the Valley, but no one's sure how much longer they'll be there. Will AZ hockey fanatics have to settle for a long-distance relationship with their favorite team? We all know those never work out. Lack of physical intimacy. Heavy phone bills. Raging jealousy. It's just not a good idea.
The Coyotes have the solid roster, coach, and front office to sustain success should they escape the shackles of ownership purgatory.
Hi, wannabe hockey owners. If you live in or are based out of Arizona, could you please buy our hockey squad? They're pretty good and will win games now. Promise. XOXO.
The Arizona Cardinals
While the D-backs struggled with an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle of a roster that tried to stay below 100 losses, the Suns dealt with the dismantling of the Mike D'Antoni's Seven-Seconds-Or-Less hoops fantasy, and the Coyotes existed, the Cardinals have provided some hope.
Forever the red-headed, unhygienic stepchild of Arizona sports, the Cardinals had finally turned things around after hiring head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who brought a mentally and physically tough approach to football. Long-reviled owner Bill Bidwell's son, Michael, stepped up and started running the team in ways which were, for once, beneficial.
They got a new alien spacecraft-shaped stadium. Elderly bag-boy Kurt Warner led the team to a Super Bowl in which they were 2 minutes, 37 seconds and one Roesthlisberger sack away from holding up a large trophy on national television.
The next season, Whiz took the team back to the playoffs, beating the Green Bay Packers -- the experts' sexy pick to go all the way in the NFC -- in a battle between two quarterbacks who hated interceptions and loved touchdowns more than their wives and children.
Though the Cards were severely beaten down in the next round by the eventual champs, the New Orleans Saints, they strung together two straight years of playoff victory for the first time ever.
Despite his deep faith, Warner defied God by playing football at elite levels for his age and the team had gained respectability and on-the-field success.
Then the 2010 offseason happened, kicking the Cardinals right in the groin with the steel-toed boot of fate. Warner finally retired. Defensive stud-muffins Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle bolted for the east coast, where the cash grows in golden fields. Matt Leinart, the Left-Handed One, was left to guide the team for the first time, really, since 2007's collarbone fracture.
The Cardinals compensated for their defensive losses fairly well, by picking up former Jets safety Kerry Rhodes via trade, former Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter via free agency, and nose tackle Dan Williams and linebacker Daryl Washington via the draft.
However, quarterback is probably the single most important position in any sport, and that's where the Cardinals have the biggest, angriest question mark. Can Leinart or backup Derek Anderson keep the team afloat in their division?
It's really too bad Arizona doesn't have a nice, helpful octopus prognosticator to help us divine out the futures of our sports franchises, because things are pretty unclear for every major Valley team. Oh, elder octopus god, please rise from your rest in R'lyeh and come help us sort out this nonsense. Inquiring minds want to know what the crap is going on with our teams!