Jordan Hill believes the Lakers could be third best team in the Western Conference

It’s not necessarily earth shattering for any player on the Lakers to feel offended by a panel of ESPN writers ranking them in 12th place out of 14 teams in the Western Conference.

Kobe Bryant immediately bristled at it. Nick Young found the evaluation “disrespectful.” Considering the Lakers still boast Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, Lakers forward Jordan Hill also told this newspaper he was “shocked” and “couldn’t believe it” when the ranking released.

What else do you expect a team to say that’s used to winning championships? Well for Hill, that’s proclaiming something that falls short of championship aspirations but still above the general public’s expectations.

“We definitely could be in the top three in the West,” Hill recently said in a phone interview. “I don’t see why not. Kobe is making progress with his rehab [surrounding his left Achilles tendon]. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back at the beginning of the season or in training camp. I don’t know if he will. But I wouldn’t be surprised. I have faith in everything he can do. I believe in the Mamba. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Few believe the Lakers reach that sky for plenty of reasons.

The Lakers lost a slew of defensive talent in Dwight Howard (bolted to Houston) and Metta World Peace (through amnesty provision). Even if Bryant’s provided a proven track record in overcoming injuries, it remains to be seen if he can single-handily carry the Lakers in the same fashion as he did last season. Rehab concerns still overshadow Steve Nash (right hamstring) and Pau Gasol (knee tendonosis). The Lakers have may acquired decent talent in veteran center (Chris Kaman), a speedy backcourt (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar) and a possibly solid perimeter defender (Wesley Johnson). But on paper, it appears the Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have superior talent, youth and athleticism.

How do the Lakers overcome such variables?

“It’s going to be tough, I’m not sure,” Hill said. “We don’t know when Kobe is going to come back. But I’m confident we can make some noise. We still have so many good pieces with Kobe, Pau, Nash, Kaman, a lot of good bench pieces. We can surprise some people and make some noise.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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  • Duh

    Did he just say 12 out of 14 in the west?

  • klorber

    will see big diff in pau this seaon his problem was to much basketball with lakers then in off season for spain thats a lot of pounding on those knees

  • G. Money

    Dude…Hill should be drug tested immediately, smoking crack can fry your brains…ask Lamar.

  • Kirk Kelley

    Lemme tell ya…I’ve got knee tendonosis…no fun, so if Pau was playing with his knees in that shape he’s a warrior…3-9 months the doc sez to heal…Lakers will get to the 5 hole…

  • Gary Kelly

    hill I luv ya bro im a big laker fan being 3rd best in a stocked west is a push but really they say 12th play the lakers I see in the 6th place I see something though dantoni will be fired and kurt rambis will be our new coach