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Sean Marks Building Plan For Success With Nets

Citing culture and continuity, the Nets’ general manager has the team back on the right track.

Benny Nadeau

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By now, you’re probably well-versed in the Brooklyn Nets’ unfortunate position as a franchise — particularly so if you’re a fan of the Boston Celtics. With a swap in 2017 that is set to bear the highest odds of securing the No. 1 overall pick and an owed selection in 2018 to Boston, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. However, that won’t make the next two years any easier to manage, which is why general manager Sean Marks has built a road map for success in Brooklyn.

The Nets have an important summer ahead of them, composed of non-guaranteed deals, late first round picks and, of course, the ongoing issue of Brook Lopez. While much of the league is watching potential free agent targets like Andre Roberson and Joe Ingles play large postseason roles, the Nets’ brass is off scouting in Europe. Marks recently stated that this summer would be “exciting” but after the Nets struck out on all three of the restricted free agents they signed to offer sheets in 2016-17 — Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and Donatas Motiejunas — these bridge years have become difficult to navigate.

With that being said, here’s how Marks and his moving pieces could shake out this offseason.

Brook Lopez

Once the Nets were well out of the playoff hunt and Jeremy Lin had returned from his lengthy hamstring issues, the franchise set their sights on some specific goals — including getting Lopez some well-deserved glory. On April 10, Lopez became the Nets’ all-time leading scorer, notching 10,440 points over nine seasons with the franchise. For many, the celebration could have served as a good sending-off point for the center — Lopez riding off into the sunset (and with a better chance at a ring) while the Nets could recoup some of their assets before the trying times ahead.

Win-win, right?

Well, it sure doesn’t sound like Lopez and the Nets are headed toward a breakup anytime soon.

On a podcast with The Vertical’s Chris Mannix this month, Lopez noted that he hopes to retire as a member of the Nets. Furthermore, Lopez wants his legacy to be remembered as somebody that started something special in Brooklyn. Following the season, Marks told NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca that their main aim is eventually making the postseason again.

“The objective for us is to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll see,” Marks added, indicating they’ll go after the big free agent after they make the playoffs. “You don’t want to go and sign free agents and then the next thing you know your payroll is capped out and you’re a 25-win team. We’re going to have to build this strategically, have patience with it.”

In that way, on a roster that is otherwise just Lin and young prospects or D-League call-ups, it sure doesn’t sound like the Nets want to sell off their franchise center for a few more selections. If that’s the case — and it may be the most important decision they make all summer — then the attention will swing toward the rest of the roster and the choices they must make there.

The Roster

Of the Nets’ current roster, six of them have non-guaranteed contracts: Sean Kilpatrick, K.J. McDaniels, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin and Quincy Acy. Given their three upcoming draft selections and current international scouting status, it’ll be nearly impossible to bring them all back. Who makes the cut then? In their own right, all six have made compelling arguments to stick around in 2017 and beyond.

Of course, Kilpatrick was the first of many D-League signings for Marks and his microwave shooting makes him a strong candidate to return. Harris was one of the Nets’ go-to three-point shooters (and a willing defender) until a concussion and shoulder injury knocked him out for the final month of the season. Dinwiddie, who the Nets’ front office chose over Yogi Ferrell, came into his own in March and April, even partially delivering the knockout blow to the Detroit Pistons’ playoff hopes, the team that traded him last June.

Marks picked up McDaniels for next-to-nothing at the trade deadline and his lengthy perimeter defense was a welcomed addition in his 20 appearances. Acy, who was a D-League signing in January, shot his socks off from three-point range for Brooklyn (43.4 percent through 32 games). Finally, there’s Goodwin; a young, athletic playmaker that must improve from behind the arc, but the front office loves his explosive scoring and ability to get the rim.

Before entering free agency or the draft, the Nets must determine the direction in which they’re looking to take this roster. Luckily for Marks, there’s plenty of flexibility. With Lopez and Lin under guaranteed deals alongside Trevor Booker, Andrew Nicholson, Justin Hamilton, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, the early leaders to return are Dinwiddie, Acy and Kilpatrick.

The International Landscape

Given Marks’ experience with the San Antonio Spurs’ organization, it should come as no surprise that the Nets are heavily scouting European players this spring. While they’ve been reportedly watching Facundo Campazzo and Shayne Whittington among others, the crown jewel would certainly be their chase of Milos Teodosic, the 30-year-old Serbian maestro at point guard. For years, NBA front offices and scouts have waited for Teodosic to make the jump, frequently receiving votes as one of the world’s best basketball players not currently playing in America.

Teodosic is a former EuroLeague MVP, FIBA Europe Player of the Year and a three-time member of the All-EuroLeague First Team. Currently with CSKA Moscow, Teodosic is averaging 16.3 points, 7.2 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per game. For a team that struggled massively without Lin on the floor in 2016-17, there may be no better bridge for Marks than Teodosic. Hailed as Europe’s best passer, Teodosic even fared well against the United States during the 2016 Rio Olympics, scoring 18 points and tallying six assists during their pool play matchup.

Teodosic did admit that the NBA must meet his financial and competitive standards before he moves overseas, but with the Nets in desperate need of a league-ready point guard and the money to spend, there’s much to like about this developing situation.

Other scouted names include the draft-eligible Mathias Lessort and Anzejs Pasecniks, so the Nets’ new regime is truly leaving no stone unturned in their never-ending search for talent.

The Draft

While the Nets don’t have any premier picks in the upcoming draft, they do hold selections 22, 27 and 57, which should give Marks a bevy of possibilities throughout the next few months. Marks hasn’t ruled out selecting an overseas stash with one of their picks given their massively in-flux roster, but they’ll need to nail their picks either way.

The Nets will certainly lament missing out on Markelle Fultz and company in June, but without a first round pick in 2018, they’ll need to choose wisely. Understandably, the Nets will likely look toward the front court in this draft at some point. Hampered by Nicholson’s long-term contract, Lopez’s free agency in 2018 and Hamilton’s rocky first season with the franchise, the Nets would do well to snag somebody like Duke’s Harry Giles or Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo should they slide that far.

Additionally, Marks has recently mentioned the need to address the small forward position this summer with Hollis-Jefferson seemingly settled into his small-ball role at the four spot. Other names that should intrigue the Nets are Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Latvia’s Rodions Kurucs.

While their upcoming picks may not bear fruit in 2017-18, the Nets have their eye on the future so a European stash or raw project could fit the bill in June’s draft. Frankly, the Nets have a need at every position currently, so Marks can again be flexible with his selections.

Free Agency

For most franchises, free agency is where teams make themselves contenders, just as the Nets attempted to do last summer. However, this time, it seems as if free agency is the one area in which the Nets may go a little light on in July. With their lack of long-term assets and draft picks, Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have preached culture and continuity above all else. This points at the Nets keeping around a large chunk of their roster from last season, for better or for worse.

With the non-guaranteed contracts, their overseas scouting and three more draft picks, there may not be much room to chase another round of restricted free agents. While there’s certainly no harm in reaching out to Otto Porter Jr., Kantavious Caldwell-Pope or the aforementioned Roberson for their desired contract range, many free agents will likely price themselves out of the Nets’ plans this summer.

The franchise-wide eye is focused on unearthing and developing their own talent instead of making the expensive mistakes of regimes in past years. That may disappoint some that wish for the Nets to pursue the likes of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap, but as their cross-town rival Knicks found out the hard way this season, there’s no shortcut to success.

At the end of the day, there’s a fair chance the 2017-18 Nets roster won’t look all that different from how it stands now. The team is a few years away from competing again in the Eastern Conference, so Marks has his building blocks in all the right places so far. Unless they look to move up in the draft or trade one of their valuable pieces like the gritty fan-favorite Booker, the Nets will settle for normalcy — something the franchise hasn’t had in years.

With Lopez looking more and more likely to remain with the team and roster spots somewhat limited, Marks has a plan in place to bridge these final two summers without their own draft picks. It certainly differs from the Philadelphia 76ers’ “Trust The Process” mantra by way of waiting for their high-selection prospects to get healthy, but the Nets have created their own long-term road map for success. We’ll just have to wait a little longer before it’s fully revealed.

Benny Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins

Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.

Buddy Grizzard

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Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.

“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.

“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.

“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.

“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.

“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”

Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.

With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.

“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.

With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.

“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”

Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.

In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.

“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”

While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.

Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.

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