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ESPN projects Kings to have a worse record this season

NBA: Sacramento Kings-Press Conference Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released their regular season record projections for the Western Conference yesterday, and to some surprise, their ‘ESPN forecast panel’ is projecting a 30-52 record from the Kings next season, a three-win decrease from their 33-49 record last season.

Blurb courtesy of John McTigue of ESPN Stats and Information –

Last season, the Kings won their most games (33) since the 2007-08 season, but our projections have the team regressing once again. DeMarcus Cousins set a career high in scoring last season with 26.9 points per game, but the disgruntled superstar was once again unhappy with the Kings' draft after the team took Greek big man Georgios Papagiannis (via trade) and drafted another Kentucky big in Skal Labissiere.

Yes, projections are silly, and yes, projections are even sillier when we are here actively assuming the Kings haven’t finished retooling their roster. They still need another point guard. Rudy Gay publically expressed his unhappiness yesterday. Ben McLemore has been on the block all summer, etc.

My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds low’, however a creeping feeling I’ve been trying suppress over the last several weeks is that, from a talent standpoint, the Kings haven’t exactly added a lot to the roster that underachieved last season.

Arron Afflalo and Garret Temple should provide improved shooting guard play. If the Kings have any tangible on-court improvements over last season, that is where I’d expect to see it. Some will consider losing Rajon Rondo as addition-by-subtraction, but as of this writing, with the point guard depth chart looking like Darren Collison, Isaiah Cousins, and Garret Temple, it’s hard to see that as anything other than a downgrade overall. I like moving Collison into the starting lineup from a talent standpoint, but his bench production will be sorely missed.

It feels as though Vlade Divac is banking on environmental improvements for success next season. I know some will argue that the Kings will never play as a cohesive unit so long as DeMarcus Cousins is on the roster, but at least we know that Dave Joerger and Vlade Divac are on the same page. The front office to coaching staff disconnect was toxic. Rudy Gay also alluded to that in his interview with Blake Ellington yesterday. The players could feel that tension, and one would hope that bringing in a new coach who was hired by the general manager will alleviate that tension.

Anthony Tolliver, and believe it or not, Matt Barnes, should also improve internal chemistry. Yeah, Matt Barnes. I’m hesitant to believe it myself, but Joerger loves Barnes, and report after report after report talks about how amazing he is as a teammate, so we’ll have to wait and see on that one. I certainly had my reservations about signing him.

To defend ESPN’s harsh projections for a moment, the Western Conference got a lot stronger this offseason. The Utah Jazz improved. The Houston Rockets may have improved. The Warriors were always going to be good, but they improved. The Portland Trail Blazers will have another year together. The Dallas Mavericks did some things. More to the point, that lower half of the Western Conference, the teams the Kings will be competing with for the 8th seed, improved more than the Kings did on paper this summer.

The Kings will be a fascinating test case in how important chemistry and coaching is, because Dave Joerger was their biggest free agent signing this offseason.

I can’t help but feel as though the Kings lost their playoff window last season. The Western Conference was weaker and riddled with injuries. They had an opportunity to make a run and completely squandered it. Next season projects to be far more difficult.

So while I’d ultimately disagree with ESPN’s win projection, I can see how they got there. I’d predict a similarly disheartening-but-slightly-improved record based on the roster right now, but I’m hopeful that the Kings aren’t finished yet. For all the talk about wanting to open the new arena with a playoff contender, I can’t say that I see that as a possibility right now.

There is still time for those hopeful improvements, but what sort of record projections would you predict with the roster as currently constituted?