Wizards

Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

201212231542565794645-p2.jpeg

Mularkey keeps Jaguars playing hard in tough year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has seen scores and highlights from around the league in recent weeks.

A blowout here, a lopsided loss there. In all, four games over the last three weeks decided by a combined 180 points.

The Jaguars (2-13) haven't been involved in any of them, and Mularkey believes it says something about how his players are handling the worst season in franchise history.

Jacksonville played arguably its best game all season in a 23-16 loss to playoff-bound New England on Sunday.

The Jaguars finished with 436 yards and 22 first downs, and had two decent chances to pull within a 2-point conversion of winning the game in the closing minutes.

``It kind of confirms what you've been saying all along that if you respond in this fashion, in a positive way, a win will come.'' Mularkey said Monday.

With nothing left to play for except pride, Mularkey's team has been mostly competitive over the last half of the season.

The Jaguars played Green Bay tough on the road in October, went to overtime at Houston in November, upset Tennessee and have been in tight games the last three weeks.

Sure, they lost by three touchdowns last week at Miami. But anyone who saw that one knows it would have been considerably closer had Jacksonville not failed to convert three fourth-down plays inside the Miami 15-yard line.

The Jaguars had even more trouble near the goal line against the Patriots.

Jacksonville had the ball inside the New England 25 seven times, but came away with a touchdown and three field goals. Josh Scobee missed a 43-yarder, and Chad Henne ended the final two drives with interceptions.

``Obviously you want to make more plays out there, but I thought the guys fought hard and showed what kind of team we really are,'' said Henne, who completed 29 of 51 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions.

The Jaguars might seem close to turning things around, but the reality is they lack talent on both sides of the ball. Throw in several key injuries, and it's been a recipe for disaster.

Jacksonville has lost 11 of its last 12 games, including four in a row, heading into Sunday's season finale at Tennessee (5-10).

But somehow, someway, Mularkey has kept his team focused and playing hard.

``It certainly would be easier if you had some wins because your energy, anything that's positive is going to recharge you,'' Mularkey said. ``But fortunately I have an excellent staff that's had a lot of energy, especially at this time of the year. Even the teams that are heading to the playoffs are fatigued. Our guys, I have to give them credit. They have come to work. They have worked on game plans diligently to put our guys in position.''

Mularkey took a unique approach to Sunday's home finale.

When he spoke to the team Saturday night, he used the phrase ``lay the wood,'' and when players arrived the next morning for the game, Mularkey had wooden baseball bats in each locker with the words ``violent, physical, relentless'' etched into the barrel.

It nearly worked as the players sacked Tom Brady three times and pressured him much more often.

``We've been talking about physical, finish, relentless play all year long, and I just thought that might be good when they walk in and see this is what needs to be done,'' Mularkey said. ``I hope they know I am trying to constantly send messages to reconfirm what we talk about all week.''

Much of the talk lately in Jacksonville has been about the future of the franchise. Owner Shad Khan has to decide whether to keep general manager Gene Smith, the architect of the roster the last four years, and Mularkey. Mularkey's first season has been rough, with the offense and defense ranked 31st in the league.

Still, it would be feasible that Khan would consider the team's close-but-not-quite performances down the stretch when evaluating whether to clean house and start over.

``We have been fighting the whole year,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ``I hate to say I'm proud of the guys after a loss, but I am because we fought to the end. That was a good football team. They are a really good football team and they just did escape. If we come to play like that every week, the sky is the limit.

``I have a really good feeling this is the quiet before the storm. There is a lot to learn from, a lot to get better at and a lot of things to evaluate. I have a good feeling about this group of guys in this room.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

John Wall and Bradley Beal trade rumors show Wizards are exploring all options

John Wall and Bradley Beal trade rumors show Wizards are exploring all options

The mounting losses and the hapless nature of those defeats has the 5-11 Washington Wizards entering new territory, a place the franchise has not been in years. The team's steadfast plan of building around John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. may be nearing its end. 

The time has come to at least consider something drastic.

That means, at least according to ESPN, essentially everyone on the Wizards’ roster is available in trades. That includes both Wall and Beal, two All-Stars who are just 28 and 25, respectively.

This would be a departure from their recent stance of withholding Beal, in particular, in talks for available stars like Jimmy Butler. But sensing the current roster may have run its course, the Wizards are exploring their options.

There is added urgency in the money they have committed. The Wizards have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA and are due to pay about $12.4 million in luxury tax, according to Spotrac.com.

The Wizards’ thoughts of trading either Wall or Beal are very preliminary, according to a person familiar with the situation. This being out there simply lets other teams know they will listen.

Despite the whirlwind of reports, any major deal would likely take a long time to orchestrate. The Wizards would likely take months to lay the groundwork, even if matters get worse on the court. 

When you have two players as good as Wall or Beal, a good return needs to be guaranteed in a trade. Plus, both players have demonstrated over the years they can put on a good face through times of turmoil.

It’s also worth pointing out that this does not mean a rebuild is imminent. They aren’t close to being there yet. 

With two All-Stars in their 20s, the Wizards would first try to retool around them. And if they do trade one, that doesn’t mean they are also trading the other. Reactionary moves are not in the Wizards' nature.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski notes, the Wizards would prefer to first trade others on the roster, but so far have not received enticing offers for Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr., Markieff Morris and the like. The ideal option would be to trade one of them and give the new-look roster time to adjust before next steps are taken. They have forward depth and could replace any of those three in the short-term.

Porter, though, has a sizable contract. He’s owed about $81 million over the next three seasons. Though he’s only 25 and one of the game’s best three-point shooters, that is a lot of money to take on for a player who has yet to make an All-Star team.

Morris, meanwhile, is struggling this season. Oubre is having a solid year, but is due to hit free agency after this season and won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Beal is by far the Wizards’ most attractive trade asset, given he’s a young All-Star and due $81 million the next three seasons, a relatively modest price given his ability and today’s market.

Wall, on the other hand, has a supermax extension worth $169 million that doesn’t kick in until next year. He is set to become one of the highest-paid players in the NBA and will be owed $40 million-plus per season into his 30s.

That doesn’t mean Wall couldn’t be traded, if the Wizards choose that route. Several teams in particular stand out as logical fits. There are the Lakers, who will need to give LeBron James some better teammates at some point to compete for his fourth championship ring.

Wall has the same agent as James and would add a second All-Star to the Lakers’ rebuild. If they pulled in a third star, like Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis, they would be in business.

Two other teams that make sense, if the Wizards decide to trade Wall, would be the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic. Both have stacked top draft picks in recent years, but are in desperate need of a point guard.

Beal could conceivably field offers from half the league. An All-Star at his age and at his price is something most teams could use. He has zero character concerns and his game is compatible with anyone. He hits threes, is effective off-the-ball and plays defense.

The biggest question through all of this is how the Wizards’ front office would factor in. If they want to make wholesale changes, owner Ted Leonsis has to first determine who will be making those decisions. If shuffling the front office is at all an option he’s considering, that has to be weighed in the timing of any major moves.

The Wizards are a ways away from pulling the trigger on a major trade, but the seeds are being planted in case their situation gets even worse.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Bradley Beal tired of the off-court drama: 'All I do is come in here and work'

Bradley Beal tired of the off-court drama: 'All I do is come in here and work'

WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal held court with reporters following Monday’s practice and hours after a report emerged on ESPN about the sliding Wizards are perhaps open for trade discussions involving all their players. Washington fell to 5-11 Sunday after an “embarrassing” loss. The team hoped by now the skid would stop. It hasn’t.
Neither would the use of a power tool near the Wizards practice court where Beal tried answering questions about the report and offering explanations for this shocking season. With rumors swirling – including one about a highly emotional practice - and highly caffeinated opinions everywhere, a significant question is how the Wizards handle such buzz.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I’m mad or frustrated or angry by it,” Beal said of the report. “All I can do is control what I can control, and that’s totally out of my control. I’ll allow [Wizards team president] Ernie [Grunfeld] and my agent [Mark Bartelstein] to deal with that. All I do is come in here and work, work my tail off every day and make sure we’re better and try to win ball games.”

Beal continued, as did the maintenance work.

“I mean, I’m not going to be naïve to it, you know,” Beal said of the report. “I have a phone just like everybody else does. There were rumors weeks ago. Then, I didn’t buy into them. Now, I’m still not going to buy into them because if that’s my main priority and focus then I’m going to be messed up on the floor.”

On cue, the power tool erupted. Beal, nodding in the direction of the worker joked, “I can’t control him.”

Opponents have largely controlled Washington, which ranks 29th in scoring defense. The Wizards entered this season something of an all-or-nothing team. There were reasons for optimism, namely Beal and fellow All-Star guard John Wall along with improved depth. This bunch also drew numerous skeptics following a frustrating 2017-18 campaign where team chemistry concerns mushroomed.

Experience from other slow starts since he joined Washington in 2012 helps Beal navigate such rough waters. There was a difference this time, an evident change in outlook provided by his son. “A different type of dribbling,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando earlier this month.

“[He] makes me realize basketball isn’t my life. I’ll drop basketball right now to take care of my son. That’s a no-brainer. It’s definitely put a lot of things into perspective for me.”

Beal, 25, led Washington in scoring last season while playing all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career. His work led to more national recognition, eyes opening around the league. New reality kicked in from all angles with the family’s new arrival.

“I think the biggest thing for me is embracing. Embracing who I am as a player. The position I’m in. The years I’ve put in. Being an All-Star. Being one of the best [players] and being a father now. Just embracing what all of that entails, good and bad,” Beal said.

The bad is now a daily headline. Monday it was the possibility of a team teardown. Most often, what’s wrong with the Wizards. Beal is here for now and perhaps the entire length of his career, though he grasps professional basketball is a business. Worlds may change overnight. Beal is trying to figure out how to fix things immediately.

Monday Beal cited past Wizards teams that stopped responding during slides. “You know what that feels like when you just show up every day and go through the motions. We don’t have that [now],” he said. What they have isn’t attitudinally enough even compared to last season’s frustrations.

“Last year we kind of had a little more sense of urgency,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando. “This year we’re a little too lax. We need to be more pissed off.”

Beal’s annoyance popped publically following a 116-112 loss at Sacramento on Oct. 26 by saying players on the court were letting personal “agendas” take over. The take wasn’t surprising, but Beal told NBC Sports Washington he wishes he could have skipped airing grievances through the media. 

The real takeaway from that moment was the recognition of a problem just five games into the season. The fix remains elusive. Beal leads Washington in scoring (21.5) and handles his business often, but like others at times can get caught up with watching on defense and making bad choices when the offense stagnates.

Finding solutions isn’t up to Beal alone yet he’s one of the clear team leaders. Part of Beal’s dilemma: How to lead when you’re not the only influential voice in the locker room.

“I’ve been struggling with that,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando. “It’s not about scoring points. … It’s like, OK, what more can I do to help us win? What am I not doing enough of? I don’t even point at my teammates necessarily first even if I’ve had a great game. It’s like what could I have done more? If that’s what I need to do than I have to do it.

“It is a little confusing. I’m still trying to figure it out, honestly. … It’s not just one thing. The biggest problem if you want to call it a problem is how do you turn around? Win. How do you win? You defend, you rebound, you play your style of basketball. I put a lot of that on my shoulders. If there’s more I can do I’m going to go do it.
It’s definitely something I’m in the process of figuring it out.”

That process is ongoing. The Wizards enter Thanksgiving week in unwanted territory. The new report of potential trades adds another element to the potentially combustible scene.

Beal understands the core group that reached the playoffs in four of the past five seasons might be broken up. He knows there’s little he can do other than play his game, practice with passion and, when home, raise his son with joy. The drama and the outside noise isn’t for him.

“All the behind the scenes stuff, I don’t like worrying about it,” Beal said Monday. “I don’t like consuming my energy with it because basketball is my muse. This is my place of peace, my happy place. If that’s going to be taken away from me, then I’ll be totally messed up. I can’t allow rumors and the possibility of [changes] affect what I do on the floor. At the end of the day, it is a business. [Ernie] has a job. He’s protecting himself. He’s protecting the organization. Nobody can be mad at that.”

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: