Russell Westbrook to be NBA's MVP... Kevin Durant's Golden State Warriors switch will fuel him on a historic tear, believes Kristen Ledlow
- The new 2016-17 NBA season gets under way on October 25
- Cleveland Cavaliers beat Golden State Warriors to win last term's title
- Golden State have strengthened with the stellar signing of Kevin Durant
- Warriors now possess two MVPs in Durant and point guard Stephen Curry
- Dwyane Wade joined Chicago Bulls after an entire career at Miami Heat
The new NBA season is nearly upon us with the upcoming campaign getting underway on October 25.
LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers will be hoping to defend their title while Golden State Warriors have been boosted by the arrival of Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sportsmail have spoken to NBA presenter Kristen Ledlow to get the lowdown from the other side of the pond as the new season draws closer.
NBA presenter Kristen Ledlow gives her views ahead of the upcoming NBA campaign
Kevin Durant's move to Golden State Warriors stole the headlines this summer - how much of a difference will he make at the Oracle Arena?
It definitely changes the landscape of the Western Conference as a whole because not only has he made the Warriors better, he has essentially eliminated the Thunder as a contender in the Western Conference. I hesitate to say this because I think Russell Westbrook is about to go on a historic tear and he's going to be the league's MVP this season. Durant has turned this into what could be a two-horse race in the Western Conference between the Golden State and San Antonio Spurs. So it's not just that he makes the Warriors significantly better statistically, it's that he's eliminated other competition as well which paves the way for the Warriors to be back on the way to the Finals.
Kevin Durant's move to the Golden State Warriors has been the trade of the off-season
Were you surprised he decided to leave Oklahoma City Thunder or do you think he was right to take up a new challenge?
I maintain the opinion that Kevin Durant is good enough to have won with Russell Westbrook and the staff in place at OKC. And I don't think he needed to join the team that beat him in order to do so. I understand the pressure to win rings and secure a legacy is a greater thing than we can probably understand but it did surprise me - not just that he left OKC but he joined the team that had beaten him in the Playoffs.
Durant has joined the Warriors as he seeks his first-ever NBA championship
What shape do you think the Thunder are in having traded Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka this summer?
I still think they are going to be a Playoff team. I still think they are going to be a Playoff contender. I think they are now going to be in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference. I think what we have seen in the Western Conference is that if you are in the middle or near the bottom then you are not looking at having a great shot of getting out of the first round or two in the Western Conference. I think they are still going to be in that kind of five or six mix simply because of how great Westbrook is going to be this season. But I don't think they are going to be good enough as a team to make it into the NBA Finals.
How will Russell Westbrook lead this OKC team now?
I get so excited talking about Russ [Westbrook]. I have been so excited to watch Russ ever since the announcement that KD [Durant] was going to Golden State. I am counting down the moments until Russ gets to play that Golden State team. I have been so excited just watching everything he has done this off-season. It doesn't matter if he's singing Taylor Swift on his Instagram because I'm all in to Russell Westbrook this season. I think he's going to lead that team phenomenally and like I said - he's going to go on a historic tear and he's going to be the MVP.
Russell Westbrook will be out with a point to prove at Oklahoma City Thunder this season
Which other move during the off-season has taken you by surprise?
Dwyane Wade to Chicago was very surprising to me. I thought always they were going to make it work in Miami. Like Miami-Wade County, that's his city. But essentially Chicago is as well and he's having the chance to now go home and do something special with the Bulls.
We were looking at what is it that they are doing right now. Where are they heading with Derrick Rose elsewhere, Joachim Noah elsewhere. We have seen Pau Gasol go elsewhere. It was surprising to me that not only did they bring in Rajon Rondo but now they have Wade and it is looking like a team that will be a legitimate contender in the East and I was surprised that both sides did not come to an agreement to keep Wade in Miami simply because of the fact that you are talking about solidifying a legacy.
We watched what Kobe did and how special it was for him to be at the Lakers for the entirety of his career. Wade had the chance of doing that in Miami and I thought that was going to be a special one but I'm excited to see what he does in Chicago.
Dwyane Wade left his beloved Miami Heat for his hometown franchise Chicago Bulls
Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, the No 1 and 2 picks of this year's draft, will be expected to shine for their respective sides - how do you think they will fare in the NBA?
I have been so impressed with Ben Simmons. I have only had a chance to talk to him and be around him couple of times but we did sit down in Las Vegas about a month ago for Inside Stuff and GameTime this Autumn I was blown away by the level of maturity that he brings. Not just to a sit down interview but also watching him on the court.
The poise he has already at such a young age and to be so inexperienced in the professional game but bring a level of confidence to the floor is unbelievably impressive. I was watching just little things about his game and he's the guy - along with Brandon as well - who is going to garner the most criticism because we have never seen them before in the professional game.
Much is expected of Ben Simmons during his rookie season at the Philadelphia 76ers
But just little things, the way that his mind works, the way he sees the floor and the things he's capable of - I think he's going to have a long staying career in the NBA. I know LeBron James feels the same way and if anybody knows about coming into the league and creating a special career for yourself it's LeBron.
With Brandon, I think there's going to be loads of companions like with Ben and LeBron. Brandon is being likened to Kevin Durant. He's a guy who they are saying needs to put some meat on his bones and they have spoken his body needing to develop.
KD was a guy who didn't really listen to that kind of criticism when he was coming out of Texas. A guy who couldn't even benchpress 185 pounds - he couldn't even put the bar up - and now one of the best in the league and will ultimately be a Hall of Famer. I think if Ben and Brandon have a fraction of LeBron and Durant's careers then they are going to have staying careers in the NBA.
Like Simmons, Brandon Ingram has the weight of the world his shoulders at the LA Lakers
Do you think Simmons will turn the 76ers around?
I think it's hard to say because we have heard for so long in Philadelphia that it's time to 'trust the process'. Well 'the process' has been going on for a while now and we have seen a lot of top draft picks go there. Their frontcourt alone is one of the most talented in the NBA just with the young talent they have on their roster now. I think that the talent is going to be there. Whether or not they can put it altogether on the floor to be a legitimate Playoff contender is still yet to be seen.
Philadelphia 76ers will be hoping Simmons can lead them out of their malaise of recent terms
The LA Lakers will go into a new NBA campaign without Kobe Bryant for the first time in 20 years, who needs to step up to replace him in the Staples Center locker room?
Nobody is going to fill Kobe's shoes. It's impossible to do so. A legend like that leaves a void that is too great to fill and I don't think anyone is wise to try to fill it. Your best bet moving forward is to be the best version of you for that Lakers franchise. I am excited to see some of that younger talent develop under a new coach in Luke Walton, who I love. I think he's going to do a great job of unleashing a guy like D'Angelo Russell, I think we are going to see Julius Randle come into his own as well. So I am excited to watch some of that younger talent develop and for the storyline to now be about the franchise's future rather than the franchise legend.
The Lakers will be without Future of Hall fame star Kobe Bryant since his retirement in April
What role do you think Luol Deng will play at the Lakers this year?
The Lakers needed a voice in the locker-room to some of the younger players, which I know Kobe has been. And Deng absolutely has the chance to do that. He's has that veteran presence, brings Playoff experience and brings a level of experience that I think is lacking if he's not on the roster. I think those younger guys have shown that they are willing to listen to a veteran leader because we saw that under Kobe Bryant last season. So for a guy who can still produce statistically as Luol can, to be able to step into a leadership around a young core is something Lakers should be excited about.
How excited are you by the Minnesota Timberwolves this season?
I get as excited talking about the Timberwolves as I do about talking about Russ. The fact they now have a coach in place who is going to push them defensively and let the Wolves run I guess for want of a better term.
It's going to be so exciting to watch because we talk about that young core all the time but to watch Karl-Anthony Towns become what I believe is going to be a legitimate superstar in this league, he has all the makings of being a superstar in this game. Not just on the pitch as he has the personality, he's got the swagger and charisma. I think for him to be unleashed the way he is going to be this season, I think he's going to be incredible to watch.
When those guys stand end-to-end with their fingertips touching across the entirety of the floor - my God. For that athletic core to be able to come together under a defensive-minded coach is going to be so much fun. I think they are a Playoff team, I don't think they are a contender.
Karl Anthony-Towns won Rookie of the Year last term after shining at Minnesota Timberwolves
Is this the last season for the current Clippers roster to achieve success before they may inevitably divide?
I think it's their last chance before they are broken up. Not just because it's the Clippers' last window but because it's the last window for a lot of the players they have paid a lot of money for. Father Time is undefeated. They have paid a lot of money to make that Clippers core and if this is not the year that they get over the hump and get out of the second round then I imagine there has got to be some changes made.
For all of their talent, the Los Angeles Clippers have been unable to fulfil it in recent campaigns
Going back to Durant's move to the Warriors, do you think he makes Golden State clear favourites to win back the championship?
I wouldn't give them the clear title of 'clear favourites' to win the championship but I do think they are the team to beat. I think it is tough to name anybody as a clear favourite to win the championship title when Warriors won 73 games last year and then blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals and lost to LeBron and the Cavaliers on their home floor.
It's difficult for me to name a clear favourite any more after watching what happened last season to the Warriors. I don't even want to say it that way because that was a Cavaliers win and not necessarily a Warriors meltdown. That was one of the most historic performances you will see or have seen from anyone on the planet in LeBron James. And then the development of Kyrie Irving was quite incredible so those two teams are going to still be the ones to beat and the clear favourites to compete for another championship.
As I said earlier, Durant eliminates another team from Western Conference contention so I think that the West is still Golden State and San Antonio. Until somebody proves they can do something in the East against LeBron and the Cavs in the Playoffs then they are going to be the favourites in the East again.
Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will hope to lead the Cavs to another NBA title
So you think LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers side will still be the ones to watch in the Eastern Conference again?
Absolutely. Like I said it's tough to name a clear favourite when we are a month from any regular games starting but again until somebody can win more than a game or two against LeBron and those guys in the post-season then they are the clear favourites to run away in the East.
King James poses with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after the Cavs' title win
What can fans of the NBA expect of Inside Stuff this season?
Grant and I are back this season, which we are both psyched about. We are actually going to take the show on the road a bit more this season. There are going to be players in as guests hosts. It's going to be a little bit different to the previous three seasons. We are kind of in our senior season now, so we have grown up a bit and it's going to have little bit of a different flavour to the last few years.
The Denver Nuggets will host the Indiana Pacers at The O2 on January 12, 2017. Tickets for NBA Global Games London 2017 go on sale October 28.
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