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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