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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 5/18

Basketball Insiders looks back at some of the articles from last week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin



Projecting NBA Free Agent Prices

By Eric Pincus

The NBA’s free agent process will start back up in July, less than a week after the June 26 NBA Draft.

A number of teams could have significant cap room this summer although the list of free agents isn’t nearly as strong as it projects to be in 2015.  Interesting spenders could include the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Bobcats and possibly the Memphis Grizzlies.

Who exactly will be on the free agent market also isn’t yet clear.  A number of players have to decide on opt outs before July, which could dramatically change the free agent puzzle.

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Kevin Durant’s Big Lesson

By Bill Ingram

It seems strange to talk about an established NBA super star and perennial MVP candidate learning an important lesson at this stage of his career. After all, since being drafted with the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft Kevin Durant has been one of the best players in the league, with a list of honors and awards that have him headed for the Hall of Fame. And yet, despite being a five-time NBA All-Star (and an All-Star MVP in 2012), a four-time scoring leader and a All-NBA First Team member and with one trip to the NBA Finals under his belt, over the last week this basketball phenom had to adapt to something he had never before faced.

He had to learn to ignore criticism from the media.

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Why Skip The NBA Draft Combine?

By Steve Kyler

With the 2014 NBA Draft Combine set to get underway in Chicago on Wednesday, news broke this weekend that the top overall prospects Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker would not be attending. Yesterday Andrew Wiggins joined the fray with word leaking that he too would be passing on the combine.

While none of these guys were going to compete in drills or do much more than pose for the cameras and sit in on a few face-to-face meetings with teams. There were some red flags raised by this decision, the biggest being on Embiid.

Embiid was unable to finish his season at Kansas due to a stress reaction in his back, and the word is he still has not been medically cleared for full contact. With doubts about his back and to some extent his problematic knee, opting not to take part in the combine raises some concerns among teams that could be in range to draft him.

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Top 5 NBA Draft Lottery Lucky Charms

By Joel Brigham

The 2014 NBA Draft lottery is just a little over a week away, and teams with high hopes of landing a top star like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker already are doing some pretty crazy things in the name of luck.

The Milwaukee Bucks, for example, are crowdsourcing their fans for pictures of their own lucky charms. The winning fan gets a pair of season tickets, whether Milwaukee lands the top pick or not. The Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile, are doubling that prize by offering four season tickets in a similar promotion. Even losing submissions win a couple of tickets to a Sixers game at some point during the upcoming season.

Teams are shameless when it comes to their lucky charms, which have been surprisingly silly over the years. Here are a few of the most memorable (and the most ridiculous) from lotteries of the past:

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Griffin Takes Control of Cavaliers

By Yannis Koutroupis

When the Cleveland Cavaliers re-hired Mike Brown as their head coach this summer, it came off as an admission that they made a mistake when they fired him in 2010. It was an indication that in their eyes Brown was more responsible for their successful run from 2005-2010 than he got credit for. Along with LeBron James, he took the franchise to heights they’ve never experienced before. In their haste to try to keep James in town, they made him the scapegoat and let him go, only to see him James leave anyway. That didn’t sit well with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and then general manager Chris Grant. They righted that wrong by giving Brown a five-year deal and another young team that they hoped he could mold into a contender in time.

They weren’t expecting it immediately. The expectations were actually quite realistic. All Gilbert and company wanted to see was the team return to the postseason. But in a year where 38-44 was good enough for the Atlanta Hawks to earn the eighth seed, the Cavaliers still underachieved badly enough to head back to the lottery for the fourth straight season.

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Studs and Duds from Week 4 of NBA Playoffs

By Moke Hamilton

The NBA’s version of the Elite Eight is in full-force and as the clock ticks, the hourglass sifts on the season of four more teams that hope to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. At the end of the day, though, we know that there will only be two, and unfortunately for those that reside in Rip City, or support the team that hails from there, we know it will not be the Portland Trail Blazers.

Entering week five of the NBA Playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs have not only beaten the Blazers, they have embarrassed them, dropping them into the all-too-familiar 0-3 hole and beating them by an average of 18.7 points per contest.

After a first round full of exciting finishes and scores of fans walking around with exposed cuticles due to the nail biting, the second round has been a bit of a dud comparatively speaking.

But of course, not the biggest one. That designation will be revealed below.

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Are the Spurs and HEAT On Another Collision Course?

By Jabari Davis

Before you pound your desk, keyboard, or laptop in protest, take a moment to consider the idea. Would it really be the end of the world to watch a rematch of what was one of the more entertaining NBA Finals in recent memory? Although there will always be a certain percentage of you that will rebuke the mere thought of watching a Finals that involves the Spurs (especially outside of San Antonio), many of us have come to truly appreciate Gregg Popovich’s preferred style of play as well as the manner in which the Spurs conduct themselves.

While they may be a far cry from your father’s “Spurs” that depended heavily upon Tim Duncan’s post game for years, this group still possesses the type of cutthroat precision we’ve now come to enjoy. Their core of Tony Parker, Duncan, and Manu Ginobili are still very effective (especially when rested), but aren’t constantly leaned upon quite so much as they were in the past. The difference is, they now have the type of athletes that can also cause havoc on both sides of the court. Throw in the fact that said athletes also tend to do the right thing with the ball more often than not, and you can see why some consider this roster one of the more versatile that Popovich has ever had the pleasure of leading.

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Lakers Face Complications in Acquiring Thibodeau

By Nate Duncan

With the Los Angeles Lakers job open, it has been reported that the team might attempt to trade for Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who remains under contract with the Bulls for another three years.

Such a deal is very unlikely even if there were some interest on the part of both parties because figuring out compensation that makes sense for both franchises is difficult, so this is a bit of an academic exercise. The Lakers would be fools to part with a cost-controlled top-three pick for Thibodeau and are so bereft of talent that even giving up a top-six pick (where the Lakers will fall if the lottery does not boost them into the top three) to get a win-now coach for a barren roster seems a poor idea.

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Van Gundy’s Hands Full In Detroit

By Lang Greene

According to multiple media reports, the Detroit Pistons have reportedly reached an agreement in principle with Stan Van Gundy to become head coach and president of basketball operations.

The deal is reportedly worth $35 million over five years. An official announcement is expected sometime this week.

Van Gundy has a sparkling 371-208 (.641) career record in the regular season in previous stops with Miami and Orlando. The veteran coach also boasts a 48-39 record in the postseason, with a 2009 trip to the NBA Finals with the Magic on his resume.

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Can Crawford Save Clippers with Download Moves?

By Jessica Camerato

The moves look rehearsed, as if he had spent hours working on them in the gym. The seamlessness of the finished product is too smooth to have been created on the fly. He couldn’t be improvising in the heat of the game, could he?

Jamal Crawford is capable of putting on a show with the ball in his hands at any time. Nicknamed J. Crossover, he continues to wow in his 14th NBA season thanks to a skill he calls “download moves.”

The term refers to Crawford’s ability to see a move once, remember it, tailor it to his in-game situation and carry it out on the court. He came up with the name while discussing the talent with former teammate Maalik Wayns during Los Angeles Clippers training camp this season, and he has been showcasing it throughout the playoffs.

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Van Gundy Ready For Challenge in Detroit

By Jesse Blancarte

Stan Van Gundy, who was recently hired by the Detroit Pistons as head coach and president of basketball operations, is already busy assembling his new staff. While Van Gundy is an accomplished coach (48-39 in the postseason and a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals), he has never held a front office position. Despite the lack of experience, it seems the opportunity to create a culture, build a team and coach was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“It would’ve taken a great job,” Van Gundy said at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “I mean, my brother and I talk about it all of the time. I mean, it would have really taken something very, very good. You know there were some good opportunities that I wasn’t really interested in. It would have taken great, and this one, when it presented itself with the commitment of our owner to getting things turned around paired with the fact of the dual responsibilities, which the advantage to me is that it allows you to create a very unified culture where people are not pulling against each other and then the Pistons tradition, it became one that I got excited about pretty quickly.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."


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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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Fixing The Detroit Pistons

David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.

David Yapkowitz



We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.

They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.

What Is Working

Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.

If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.

The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.

They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.

What Needs To Change

Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.

Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.

The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.

Focus Area: The Draft

To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.

The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.

Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.

In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.

It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.

The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.

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Fixing The Chicago Bulls

Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.

Spencer Davies



Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.

In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.

Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.

There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.

What Is Working

If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.

The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.

Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.

Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.

Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.

What Needs To Change

Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.

Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.

As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.

Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.

Focus Area: The Draft

Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.

Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.

Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.

If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.

Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.

Focus Area: Free Agency

Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.

The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.

Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.

Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.

There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.

All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.

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