Thirty-two wins. That's the call. (And no criticizing at the end of the season unless you post a pick before the opener. We're an equal-opportunity criticism machine here. You deserve the same chance to be held up to public ridicule.)
I had the Kings for 34 last season and they reached 38-44 despite a string of injuries, a major trade (Mike Bibby), the transition to a new point guard (Beno Udrih) and power forward (Mikki Moore), a rookie coach (Reggie Theus) and the distractions of living on the set of The Ron Artest Show. Thirty-eight was an accomplishment.
There was no real formula to settle on 32. Some people break down the schedule week by week or month by month to set a chart of a how a young team will develop or a veteran team will hold back until the finishing kick, calculate the number of back-to-backs, weigh the impact of global warming, factor in the rate of a 30-year fixed mortgage, and multiply by the size of the third side of the isosceles triangle. None of that here, even from a numbers guy.
This is mostly feel, conversation with a lot of basketball people, and one very basic calculation: Take the record from the previous season, decide if the team got better or worse and by how much, and decide if the teams they play most often got better or worse and by how much.
The Kings are worse by about a handful of games. This is not a terrible thing if they're worse while building something for the future. But, worse.
So, 32-50. Because....
*They traded away the guy who was, at worst, the second-best player on the team and got little that will make a big difference this season, unless Donte Greene doesn't act like a No. 28 pick who would be a college sophomore or Bobby Jackson actually did time travel to get back to Arco. Ron Artest to the Rockets was sensible on so many levels. It's just that none of them will show up in the win column now.
*They will benefit from a loosening of a Western Conference that can't be as good as 2007-08. Just can't be. Last season was historically good -- a playoff cut line at 50-32 is ridiculous. The West will still be treacherous and will still be deeper than the East, but gravity should kick in.
*They were bad on defense and should be even worse this time. If the Kings were No. 24 in scoring defense and No. 22 in shooting defense with Artest and made no real personnel move to address the deficiency, what does that say for 2008-09? Shooting defense will be the important stat to track because it indicates how well a team is stopping the opponent. Scoring defense is often more a byproduct of how a team plays. The Kings want to up the RPMs this season, which means opponents should also have more scoring opportunities.
*More running equals more turnovers. And the Kings were already last in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, so it can't get worse by the rankings. But it can get more costly.
*Kevin Martin will get squeezed. He averaged 23.7 points a game, best on the Kings. Second-best among returnees was Brad Miller. At 13.4. Thus the Kings wanting to push the ball more, to try and create opportunities that wouldn't ordinarily exist on a team lacking a post threat or anyone else not wearing jersey 23 that can demand a double team. Someone will reach the mid-teens, because the team scoring average may increase from 102.5 points per game and because someone will get Artest's shots. But that doesn't mean someone will make life easier for Martin.
*The atmosphere will be Artest-free. This is a good thing.
*Udrih hasn't proven he can do it for an entire season. Bobby Brown hasn't proven he can do it, period. Jason Thompson hasn't proven he can rebound, and the Kings were the fifth-worst in the league by percentage. If any or all step up, it will be a significant lift.
Improving on last season's record is improbable, getting to .500 is a massive long shot and staying in the playoff chase late means Reggie Theus gets Coach of the Year in a landslide. There will undoubtedly be encouraging moments of Kings 2008-09. Just not in the standings.