Sports Opinion & Analysis

It’s A Dry Apathy

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on January 25, 2013 at 1:17 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

The Arizona sports market is a notoriously fickled one. It’s a place built by transplants and Snowbirds, who, along with motorhomes and midwestern accents, bring hometown loyalties they don’t check at the border.

The four major professional sports teams in Phoenix.

Despite what some games might feel like, these are the actual home teams of Arizona.

Unlike long-established cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, or the Bay Area (whose residents, ironically enough, often relocate to Phoenix), the Valley of the Sun is relatively new to the professional sports scene. Except for their first franchise (the Suns, who were established in 1968), their next oldest team (the Cardinals) relocated from St. Louis in 1988. The Coyotes came from Winnipeg in 1996 (and seemingly tried to leave ever since), and the Diamondbacks were established in 1998. There are other franchises of course, like the Mercury or Rattlers, but no one really thinks about them when discussing the region’s major professional sports.

With three Championships, the Arizona Rattlers are the most sucessful franchise in the state. They currently play in the league, "Who Gives A Crap?"

With three championships, the Rattlers are the most successful franchise in the city’s history. They currently play in the “Who-Gives-A-Crap?” league.

With the youth of the Phoenix sports market, and the nature of its residents, Arizona teams don’t yet have the deep fan bases like those larger and previously mentioned upon markets. In Arizona, when times are good (like the Suns’ Dick Van Arsdale, Charles Barkley, and Steve Nash eras; the World Series Diamondbacks; the failed Super Bowl Cardinals; and the most recent Coyotes team), arenas and stadiums are often sold out and loud with hometown pride. When times go south though (the late 1980’s, early 2000’s, and current Suns teams; most years since the D-backs changed their colors; most of the Cardinals and Coyotes existence), the fan base divides itself in half (that’s a generous estimation), and while some continue rooting for the local teams, most put back on the jerseys and hats from their childhood.

Mill Avenue during the day.

Mill Avenue during the day.

It’s like a snake that eats its tail; the teams don’t win over fans by losing, less fans means less revenue to build potential winners, rinse and repeat.

Carrying on that fine tradition of ineptitude, close calls, woulda’s, shoulda’s, and ‘coulda’s, Valley sports have been in the news a lot lately, both locally and on the national stage. One team fired its coach, and after three weeks, managed to pull off the steal of the league when hiring its new one. Another team fired their coach and no one could figure out why, much less understand why they hired the guy they did to replace him. Another team traded the face of their franchise for a soon-to-be free agent, a high ERA pitcher and a bag of peanuts, while another team had their MVP give up more goals in two games (before getting hurt) than it seemed like he did all last year.

With all this said, it’s a frustrating, heartbreaking, infuriating, and above all else, interesting time for Arizona sports. Since next week is pretty much going to be all Super Bowl, all the time, I wanted to take a moment this Friday to take a brief look at my hometown teams, their current moves, and what this means for the foreseeable future of the franchises and the community.

So, with no further ado.

Phoenix Suns:

Dan Majerle is one of the most popular Suns of all time. He’s so popular in fact, he could probably kill someone right in the middle of United Airways Center, right during a nationally televised game, then be allowed to leave the arena completely unmolested, all while giving high fives to the police as he left.

"Don't tempt me!"

“Don’t tempt me!”

So when coach Alvin Gentry got canned earlier this week for no logical reason (a great coach with a team of limited talent can only go so far), you would think Majerle would finally be given the chance the team over, especially after devoting five years as an assistant, right? Or at least Elston Turner (the assistant coach with 16 years of experience) would be named the new man in charge?

Instead, the Suns made Lindsey Hunter, a former player with no coaching experience outside his son’s high school team, as the new head coach. It probably also helped that Hunter is best friends with Lance Blanks, the Suns’s General Manager.

Insert "Snowball in Hell Before Suns Win NBA Title Joke" here.

Insert “Snowball’s Chance in Hell Before Suns Win First NBA Title Joke” here.

This is just one tragic example of what the Phoenix Suns have become. They aren’t winning games, they aren’t selling seats, and the reason owner Robert Sarver doesn’t think fans are upset with the moves he’s making is because the city has grown so apathetic to the team’s current state that they don’t have the effort to care anymore. Fans are bunkering down and crossing their fingers that Shabazz Mohammed magically comes via the draft, and if not, hey Bruce Arians got hired by the Cardinals!

So what does this mean for the future of Phoenix’s first and most beloved Sun son?

Currently, former Suns legends and players are distancing themselves from the organization, as they seemingly do not want to be associated with their former team. Charles Barkley, who over the years has remained silent on his opinions of the Suns, has very recently and publicly expressed his disappointment in the franchise’s current direction. After losing Steve Nash last summer, the team has no face of the franchise, and more importantly, no go-to scorer, regardless if he has a face or not. Michael Beasley and a roster of scrappy, misfit role players have been sold to fans as the future. Local sports broadcasters are calling out the team’s mismanagement and dysfunction.

These Suns are no longer the Suns you grew up with. Remember the days when former players and legends once held roles in the front office, ceremonial or not, and made sure they kept strong connections with the fans? Even if times were tough, it was alright, because it was a family, and the whole Valley was in it together?

Now, Sarver and his current front office has cut ties with the past, and have seemingly run out everyone once associated with the team. Everyone from Dan Majerle as an assistant coach, to Cedric Ceballos as the In-Arena MC are now gone, and in their place are Blanks and Babby’s friends and former associates. It’s sort of like this: imagine you used to go over to a friend’s house everyday after school, and years later, after you’ve graduated and got married and had kids of your own, you drive by that house. Your friend’s parents have long ago sold it, and now a bunch of stoner college kids who don’t keep up with the yard and let the paint fade live there. It’s still the same house, on the outside, but what made it so great growing up is gone.

Arizona Diamondbacks

It seems like a long time since the 2011 NL West Championship season. Most of the faces from that team are long gone, traded away for prospects, middle relievers, and now a plethora of shortstops. Just yesterday, the team traded the once projected cornerstone of the franchise, Justin Upton, for a guy who will be a free agent next year, a pitcher with a high ERA, and a bunch of prospects who are projected to have limited potential.

What the D-backs have now is a team of scrappy, blue-collar role players. I would get excited about this, but this eerily sounds familiar. Like, down the street from Chase Field familiar (if you’re not getting this, see “Suns” above).

Current blue collar state of the team.

Current Diamondbacks roster.

Now baseball is an entirely different sport than basketball, I know that, and you can look to teams like the 2010 Giants as an example of a roster filled with scrappy role players who performed way above expectations. The difference though, is that Matt Cain and the 2010 version of Tim Lincecum was on that Giants team, and no matter how good Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, or Tyler Skaggs are, they aren’t Cain or 2010 Lincecum. And Wade Miley was just a rookie last year.

"Really? Bryce Harper?"

“Really? Bryce Harper?”

If Randall Delgado can get his ERA down, and Martin Prado signs a long-term extension, the Upton trade might not be the worst move in the world, even if it sort of feels like it right now. Prado is a great hitter, and all around great baseball player, and with the rise of Paul Goldshmidt, the team might very well easily forget Upton and all that “potential” they’ve been selling on him his entire career. In fact, the thing I’m most upset about with this trade is that I just got an Upton jersey this Christmas this year, and now what am I going to do with it? That’s supposed to be a joke, but seriously, what am I now going to do with this jersey?

Either way, this is a team of scrappers and hard workers, and it’s going to go one of two ways. They are either going to win big, or Kevin Towers will be gun slinging somewhere else.

Arizona Cardinals

After starting 4-and-0, the Arizona Cardinals tanked the rest of 2012, then fired their coach. What happened for the next three weeks was perceived by fans as a comedy (or tragedy) of errors. Ray Horton was going to be the coach unless Andy Reid was the coach, or Mike McCoy, and when they weren’t Horton was going to be the coach, and he was going to bring Norv Turner in as the offensive coordinator, that is unless it was Jay Gruden was going to be the coach, or Darrell Bevell, or Bruce Arians. Finally, when Arians was named to the position, Horton rightfully wanted out, and the team, in losing a defensive genius and replacing him with an offensive one, seemed to have cut of their nose to spite their face.

"How long until practice is over and I can tweet about the strip club?"

“How long until practice is over and I can tweet about the strip club?”

Then, Arians built his staff, fans started shutting up and believing, and now even Beanie Wells, who only a few short weeks earlier was saying how he was “auditioning for thirty-one other teams” when playing in the last game of the season, is excited. It seems the whole state of Arizona (minus the contingent who root for the 49ers. Or Bears. Or Packers. Or Steelers. Or…) is abuzz, and analysts are saying the Bidwills need to be promptly arrested on charges of robbery, what with how good a staff they built by taking them away from other teams.

Out is a player’s coach and easy locker room, and in is Arian’s authority and discipline.

Bruce Arians telling his offensive line his expectations.

Bruce Arians telling his offensive line his January expectations.

Unless the blue-collar D-backs over perform, or the Coyotes can again find the magic of last year, the future’s again bright for the Cardinals to be the preferred  team of the Valley, despite not having a clearly defined quarterback, huge holes on the offensive line, a lack of a running game, a rebuilding defense, having to play in the NFC West, and yada yada yada.

All of that doesn’t really matter to fans right now though, who are too excited about the possibilities Arians brings. It’s goodbye “In Whiz We Trust,” and hello “Arians Nation!”

…yeah, that’s not going to work. We’ll figure it out by training camp.

Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes

This is the trickiest of all teams to assess. If last year can be a measuring stick for anything, the Coyotes are the closest thing to a future champion than any of the other teams combined. Unfortunately, unless potential owner Greg Jamison finally pushes through his purchase of the Yotes before the fast approaching deadline, the team might be celebrating that championship in another city, most likely somewhere in or near Canada.

Caption

This summarizes all of the “Are they moving, or aren’t they?” speculation.

The Coyotes are either here, or they aren’t, or they are, or they aren’t, and no matter how good they might be, a sport played on ice is already a tough sell in the desert, so uncertainty isn’t helping any. If Jamison can close this deal though, and ensure a future of the team in Glendale, and if the team continues to play like they did last year, Phoenix might well become a hockey town. In fact, they most likely will become a hockey town, and I don’t know about you, but I never thought I would ever write those words.

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