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New year, better results? 5 predictions for Arizona sports in 2017

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Posted at 6:54 PM, Jan 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-02 13:17:51-05

Arizona sports fans would love to take the year 2016, stuff it in a trash can, kick it over a cliff and watch it explode upon impact.

Sadly, this isn't an option. Our only recourse is to hope 2017 will be a bit better.

Here are five New Year's AZ sports predictions for our professional and collegiate sports teams in the Phoenix (and Tucson) area.

1. The Suns will trade Brandon Knight.

The biggest obstacle is his contract (after this season, he'll still have three years left on his 5-year, $70 million deal), but you have to believe the Suns are desperate to deal the sixth-year pro and will find a way to make it happen. The Sacramento Kings and several others are reportedly interested in trading for Knight.

The Suns won't make the playoffs this season and are once again finding themselves with an abundance of point guards, including rookie and fellow Kentucky alum Tyler Ulis, who has shown promise as Eric Bledsoe's backup this season. Knight, who is averaging 12.7 points per game this season but was not happy about his relegation to the bench entering the year, could end up as a starter on another team, or as a vital role-player with a championship contender.

2. The Coyotes will trade at least one key player.

The Coyotes are well on their way to missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season, so except them to continue their rebuilding efforts by trading a player who’s set to become a free agent at the end of the year.

Trade possibilities include forward and leading scorer Radim Vrbata, along with forward Martin Hanzal and defenseman Michael Stone, all of whom are set to become free agents. The Coyotes dealt fan favorite Mikkel Boedker right before last year’s trade deadline; expect them to make at least one more major move before this year’s deadline, which comes Feb. 28.

3. Arizona basketball will make a deep tournament run.

This largely depends on the status of guard Allonzo Trier, who remains suspended for some unknown reason. But there seems to be a consensus among Tucson media, as well as former UA coach Lute Olson, that the sophomore star will return before season's end, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

Even without Trier, the Wildcats have put together an impressive 13-2 record to open the season. Trier's return, combined with young talent such as freshman 7-footer and likely NBA Lottery pick Lauri Markkanen, could be enough to help Arizona go deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Will it be enough to put the Wildcats in the Final Four (which will be played in Glendale this year) for the first time since 2001? Time will tell. But eventually, coach Sean Miller is going to get over that hump -- and with Trier, this year could finally be the year.

4. ASU will reclaim the Cup and go to a bowl game.

The college football scene in Arizona was every bit as bad as the pro scene was in 2016. Neither Arizona nor Arizona State went to a bowl game, thanks in part to the Wildcats' upset win over the Sun Devils in the Nov. 25 Territorial Cup game in Tucson.

The Sun Devils went 5-7 in 2016 and aren't likely to be much better next season, but they have a number of returning stars on offense, including receiver N'Keal Harry and running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. They'll also have options at quarterback, including Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, who will be eligible to play after ASU's first four games of the season.

Expect ASU to find a way to get to six wins and advance to a bowl game for the sixth time in seven seasons. That should include a victory over Arizona, as the 2017 Territorial Cup game will be played in Tempe, and the home team has won each of the last four games in the rivalry.

5. The Cardinals will return to the playoffs.

Here’s one thing we know for sure about the 2017 Arizona Cardinals: They will look quite a bit different from the 2016 team, as the Cards have 22 players who will soon become free agents. In addition, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is contemplating retirement.

But even with a disappointing 7-8-1 record in 2016 and all the inevitable changes on the way, the Cardinals will return running back David Johnson (who would be an MVP candidate if not for the Cards’ record), quarterback Carson Palmer, Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and emerging star linebacker Markus Golden. They’ll also likely bring back either defensive end Calais Campbell or linebacker Chandler Jones, but probably not both.

In addition, you can count on general manager Steve Keim to bring in enough talent via trades, free agency and/or the NFL draft to – well, make the Cardinals great again, and try to convince Fitzgerald to stick around for at least one more season. But even if Fitz calls it quits, the Cards should have enough talent to be one of the NFC’s six best teams in 2017 and make their third playoff appearance under coach Bruce Arians.