According to gaming website Bovada.com, my prediction is 2.5 games above the over/under:
2013 NBA Win Totals
Miami Heat 61
Boston Celtics 50½
Indiana Pacers 50½
Denver Nuggets 48½
Chicago Bulls 47½
New York Knicks 45½
Dallas Mavericks 44½
Brooklyn Nets 44½
Atlanta Hawks 42½
Utah Jazz 42½
Milwaukee Bucks 35½
Portland Trailblazers 35½
Phoenix Suns 33½
Detroit Pistons 31½
Toronto Raptors 31½
Houston Rockets 30½
Sacramento Kings 30½
Orlando Magic 23½
Taken from Bovada.com
As you can see, Bovada has us as tied for the 4th worst record in the league, while my prediction would "vault" us to 9th worst (oh, for the days where we didn't end our ranking banter with the word "worst").
As I reviewed the Bovada list, it struck me how you could almost set the playoffs right now. I mean, I don't see a ninth team in the East challenging Miami, Boston, Indiana, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn or Atlanta for a playoff spot. I suppose that Milwaukee could sneak in if the Hawks went into fire sale mode and the Bucks did not (remember, this is a contract year for both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, so things could go sideways in Milwaukee in a hurry). In the West, LA(x2), Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver, Memphis, Dallas, Utah and Minnesota would be the nine teams battling for eight spots, with the likelihood being that either the Mavs, Jazz or Wolves finish just outside the playoffs.
So it would appear that there are twelve teams that truly qualify as the "have nots" for this year: Portland, Golden State, Phoenix, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Washington, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Charlotte, and your Sacramento Kings. How high are how low could the Kings go within this group? Let's take a look at all of these soon-to-be loveable lottery losers.
Charlotte: Sorry, kids, but it's not summer league anymore. The Bobcats will be better this year, but they will still finish with one of the three worst records in the league, and likely the worst. This team has some potential in guys like Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker. But their youth and inexperience will not be overcome by the likes of Brendan Haywood and Ramon Sessions. They are on a par with the team that the Kings had during Tyreke Evans' rookie season. I can't see the Kings finishing below the Bobcats.
Cleveland: I'm a big Kyrie Irving fan. If you offered me Irving for DeMarcus Cousins I would at least have to think long and hard about it before grudgingly turning it down. But the rest of this team is either (a) young, (b) a mess, or (c) all of the above. C.J. Miles? Alonzo Gee? These guys project as starters right now. I am of the opinion that Dion Waiters has a long ways to go before he is a solid NBA contributor, especially one that can co-exist in the back court with Irving. I like Tristan Thompson, but as of right now he is not as good as Jason Thompson. Anderson Varejao will never hurt you, but he won't put a team on his back, either. The Cavs are one of two teams that will spend less in payroll than the Kings this year (when you factor in that they amnestied Baron Davis). Bottom line, I think that 3rd year Cuz will be better than 2nd year Uncle Drew, and that the Kings will finish at least slightly higher than the Cavs.
Detroit: I think that these guys are right at the level of the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins vs. Greg Monroe could become one of those classic match ups. Jonas Jerebko vs. Jason Thompson is a good match up. Tayshaun Prince vs. (hopefully) James Johnson could be a good match up. Rodney Stuckey (who has given the Kings fits) vs. Tyreke Evans(?), and Brandon Knight vs. Isaiah Thomas(?). The Pistons have guys like Charlie Villenueva, Jason Maxiell, Corey Maggette and Will Bynum on their bench, while the Kings counter with the likes of Thomas Robinson, Chuck Hayes, Marcus Thornton and Aaron Brooks (feel free to mix and match players as it suits you, as I have no clue what Smart will ultimately determine as it pertains to the starting lineup). I'd like to think that the Kings can finish above the Pistons, but this one could go either way.
Golden State: If Andrew Bogut and Steph Curry can stay healthy for most of the season, the Warriors are better than the Kings. That's a big "if." But if health smiles upon Golden State, they flirt with the final playoff spot into late March, maybe even early April. If you project a starting lineup of Bogut, David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Curry, that leaves the Dubs with a bench of Carl Landry, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Jarrett Jack. This means that guys like Jeremy Tyler, Festus Ezili and Draymond Green may not get much burn at all. When you see a team with this much depth, you never rule out their chances to make a big deal to acquire even more "signature" talent. The strength of this Warriors team is through the middle of their roster, so I don't project them to the playoffs at this point. But they sure look a lot better than the Kings to me, and they are probably the best team on this list.
Houston: This is another team that could attempt to make a "scorch the earth" trade, but I don't see them as having the key assets needed to land the big fish. As a result, the Rockets (the only other team with a lower payroll than the Kings) are in for an interesting season. I'm guessing a starting lineup of Omer Asik, Patrick Patterson, Chandler Parsons, Kevin Martin (with Jeremy Lamb warming in the bullpen) and Jeremy Lin. OK, Parsons is a stud and I would loooooooooooove to have him in a Kings uniform. After that? I'm still not all in on Jeremy Lin, Asik has never had to log consistent NBA starter minutes (he averaged under 15 minutes a game last year, and his high month was a little more than 16 minutes a game), and Martin looks old at 29. There's a lot of youth on the bench (and I think that Jon Brockman is there!). We really should be better than this transitioning Rockets team.
New Orleans: Conventional wisdom is that we should be better than the Hornets. Perhaps, but I'm not as quick on that trigger. Anthony Davis will get the Blake Griffin treatment by NBA officials, so he will be given every opportunity to stay on the floor and make his case for rookie of the year. Ryan Anderson was a great addition, and the back court features Eric Gordon and the underappreciated Greivis Vasquez. Al-Farouq Aminu has been nothing to write home about at small forward, but the bench does feature Robin Lopez, Jason Smith, Xavier Henry and rookie Austin Rivers. And the Hornets played hard all season long under Monty Williams last year, even winning six of their last ten (take that, purveyors of tank). I'm going with the Kings finishing better than the Hornets, but it would not surprise me if it happened the other way around.
Orlando: I'm not sure that this team is as bankrupt of talent as some have said, but the Kings should be better than a team that looks to feature Gustavo Ayon, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson as its starting lineup. The Magic still has a lot of room to off load contract to the right buyers, as their payroll is listed as being over $75m, thanks to the amnesty of Gilbert Arenas. If they can figure out a way to move Hedo, Al Harrington, or even J.J. Redick, they will, and a bad team will get even worse.
Phoenix: It's one thing when your team's chucker is its best player and his name is DeMarcus Cousins. It's another thing when your team's chucker is Michael Beasley. Beasley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat (who I like a lot but he will suffer a little in a post-Nash world), Goran Dragic, and...Jared Dudley at shooting guard? Or will it be Wesley Johnson? Or Shannon Brown? The Kings need to be better than this team, yes?
Portland: I like Damian Lillard. A lot. I was thrilled when the Kings drafted Thomas Robinson, but I would not have gone ballistic had Lillard been the choice. We all know how life can prove to be difficult for a rookie point guard, but at least Lillard comes into a situation where he has talent like LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews in the starting lineup. There is a gaping hole at center (J.J. Hickson? Meyers Leonard?? Joel Freeland???), and the bench talent is suspect. With reasonable health, I think that the Blazers are better than the Kings and at least sniffing the 8th playoff spot into the middle of March. But any injury that costs Aldridge, Batum, Matthews or Lillard significant playing time would be death to this squad, enabling the Kings to vault them. But hey, the Blazers are never bitten by the injury bug, right?
Toronto: First things first - If you're going to take the dinosaur path when naming your team, wouldn't the Toronto Saurus have been more appropriate? But I digress. I don't know what to make of this team. They have a mix of some good NBA talent. Andrea Bargnani is either the rich man's or poor man's Ryan Anderson, depending on whose opinion you care to follow. Kyle Lowry was one of the best players in the league for the first couple of months last year before being overtaken first by injury and then by Goran Dragic. Landry Fields is solid, but he may wind up on the bench behind Terrence Ross. DeMar DeRozan is intriguing but has lacked consistency (he's their Tyreke Evans). The starting center job may belong to rookie Jonas Valanciunas, unless Bargs starts at center and Amir Johnson gets the nod at power forward. The Raps also have Ed Davis and Jose Calderon (at least for the time being). This one could go either way, but the Raptors continued makeover may permit the Kings to overtake them.
Washington: When the Wizards acquired Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, a lot of folks saw them as instant playoff contenders. And when you add Nene and (especially) John Wall to the mix, you can certainly make that case. The Wizards also drafted Bradley Beal to fill the shooting guard slot, where they also have Brandon Crawford. But now Wall is hurt, which means the point guard is either A.J. Price or Shelvin Mack. And the Wizards look a little thin up front, unless the promising Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker continue to make grand improvements to their respective games. The Wizards' recent draft pick investments in small forwards (Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton) are negated by the presence of Ariza, who has a player option for next year. With a healthy Wall, I probably like the Wizards a little more than the Kings. With Wall on the shelf for any extended period of time, the Kings overtake the Wizards.
By my count, I have the Kings better than six of these teams (Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando and Phoenix), on a par with two (Detroit and Toronto), and worse than two (Golden State and Portland), with the jury still out on Washington, pending John Wall's health. If the Kings finish at my predicted 33-49, that would be about right, likely placing us at about the 8th or 9th worst team in the league, and at 12th in West.
Oddly, the teams listed above represent the key games on the schedule. Hold the home court and win half of the road opportunities, and the Kings have a chance to climb out of the bottom five and perhaps even the bottom ten. Futz around with these fellow bottom feeders and the Kings will find themselves hard pressed to win 30 games.
Alas, such is the life of the current-day Kings fan. We have met the competition, and it is not the Lakers or the Thunder or the Spurs or the Heat. The competition is Detroit and Toronto.