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The Key NBA Free Agents in 2019

The 2019 offseason may be two years away, but it’s never too early to start making long term plans.

Ben Nadeau

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By this point in this summer, most NBA franchises generally know their fate for the upcoming season. Either you’re a contender or a pretender — but thanks to the Golden State Warriors’ stacked, nearly unbeatable core, some teams are looking even further down the road. Free agency in 2019 is a full two seasons away and, obviously, much can change in the upcoming 20-plus months before then.

Still, if you’re one for forward-thinking and future planning, here’s a far, far too early look at which players could be the big-time free agent targets in 2019. Each potential free agent is denoted by their contract type and how old they’ll be by the time July rolls around two years from now.

But first, a few caveats:

On The Low, Low Odds They Don’t Opt Out in 2018

If any of these players decide to opt into their contracts in 2018, they’ll be unrestricted the following year. However, the top superstars often snag that player option to protect themselves in the case of a long-term injury. Kevin Durant, for example, seems settled into the life of 1 + 1 deals — a guaranteed one-year contract with that sweet player option in the second to make sure that he always holds the cards in free agency.

LeBron James — Cleveland Cavaliers — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds + 8.7 assists in 37.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Until Kyrie Irving’s recent shock trade request, it would have been tough to believe that the Cleveland Cavaliers were headed toward a breakup. In 2018, James will almost certainly opt out, earning himself the freedom to go anywhere he pleases. Should he and Irving suddenly reconcile their differences, they’ll both be free agents in 2019, along with Kevin Love, in all likelihood.

Kevin Durant — Golden State Warriors — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds on 53.7 percent in 33.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Russell Westbrook — Oklahoma City Thunder — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds + 10.4 assists in 34.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

In 2016-17, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double and won MVP, thus setting the stage for an epic trip to free agency in 2018. However, that was before the Oklahoma City Thunder went out and traded for All-Star Paul George this summer. While Westbrook has mentioned his intentions to stay with the Thunder long-term, the allure of Los Angeles may be too much to handle. Note: Both Westbrook and George have player options in 2018 and then are unrestricted in 2019 — can you say package deal?

Paul George — Oklahoma City Thunder — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds + 3.3 assists in 35.9 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Carmelo Anthony — New York Knicks — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds in 34.3 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 35

Carmelo Anthony will earn himself at least one more NBA payday in 2019 — that is, if he doesn’t opt out of his contract after next season, wherever it is that the future Hall of Famer ends up. After strong stints with both the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks over the last fourteen years, Anthony will surely look to target the ever-elusive NBA Championship — hence his desire to join up with Chris Paul in Houston.

DeAndre Jordan — Los Angeles Clippers — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds on 71.4 percent in 31.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

LaMarcus Aldridge — San Antonio Spurs — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds + 1.2 blocks in 32.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Surprisingly, it seems as if the San Antonio Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge are barrelling toward a split. After frustration surrounding his fit with the Spurs arose this summer, Aldridge is likely a lock to opt out in 2018 instead of waiting for it to naturally expire one year later. Aldridge had a tough postseason for San Antonio, but he’ll be sought after whenever he hits free agency.

Yeah, They’re Restricted Free Agents… But Don’t Get Any Ideas

Technically, this quartet will all hit the open market in 2019, but something drastic would need to happen in the next two years before their respective franchises balk at matching any offer sheet they receive. More or less, it’s fair to cross this daydream off your free agency wish list — these four won’t be going anywhere.

Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota Timberwolves — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds + 1.3 blocks in 37 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

What else is there to say about Karl-Anthony Towns? If head coach Tom Thibodeau can work on improving Towns’ raw defense, then the young center will quickly become one of the NBA’s most dominant forces. With Andrew Wiggins preparing for a max offer from Minnesota, the two could form an extremely potent duo for the next decade. Condolences to the other 29 teams, but Towns is destined to be the face of the franchise in Minnesota for a very, very long time.

Devin Booker — Phoenix Suns — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.1 points, 3.4 assists + 1.9 three-pointers in 35 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 22

Kristaps Porzingis — New York Knicks — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds + 2 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 24

Ditto goes for Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks’ Latvian unicorn. Since he was drafted in 2015, Porzingis has been absolute revelation — blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and hitting three-pointers, the budding superstar does it all. There was some worry the Knicks might move him around June’s draft, but fret no longer, Porzingis will terrorize opponents at Madison Square Garden until further notice.

Myles Turner — Indiana Pacers — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds + 2.1 blocks in 31.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

Max ‘Em Out

Kawhi Leonard — San Antonio Spurs — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds + 3.5 assists in 33.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2018: 28

The Klaw quickly became one of the league’s greatest assets under the tutelage of head coach Gregg Popovich and the recently-retired Tim Duncan. Of course, Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and already has an NBA Finals MVP to his name as well. Oh, and given the way the Spurs typically take care of business, it’s fair to expect that Leonard won’t be leaving San Antonio for quite some time, if ever.

Kyrie Irving — Cleveland Cavaliers — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 25.2 points, 5.8 assists + 2.5 three-pointers in 35.1 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota Timberwolves — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, + 5.5 assists in 37 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Superstar Jimmy Butler reunited with former head coach Tom Thibodeau in a stunning draft day trade back in June. Now in Minnesota, Butler will compete alongside Wiggins and Towns on a nightly basis in the crowded Western Conference. If the Timberwolves find quick success, Butler is a strong candidate to stick around past his player option in 2019.

Kevin Love — Cleveland Cavaliers — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19 points, 11.1 rebounds + 2.4 three-pointers in 31.4 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Klay Thompson — Golden State Warriors — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 22.3 points, 3.7 rebounds + 3.4 three-pointers in 34 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Klay Thompson has made a living as one of the top contributors responsible for Golden State’s now three-year rampage through the league. Perhaps in two years, Thompson could be ready to follow his curiosity to a new franchise and, finally, taste professional basketball as the number one option on offense.  Or, of course, he could stay in the Bay Area forever and ruin the other 29 franchise’s plans indefinitely — that reality is still certainly in play.

Hassan Whiteside — Miami HEAT — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds + 2.1 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 30

Kemba Walker — Charlotte Hornets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 23.2 points, 5.5 assists, + 3 three-pointers in 34.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

In this point guard-driven league, the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker is one of the NBA’s most underrated. It stands to reason that if Walker had a more prolific supporting cast, he’d be a shoo-in for All-Star festivities each year. During the fourth quarter, Walker becomes an entirely different animal — the type of player you’d want to take the last shot with the game on the line. If Charlotte doesn’t take the next step in development soon, it wouldn’t be surprising to find Walker looking toward greener pastures in 2019.

Eric Bledsoe — Phoenix Suns — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds + 6.3 assists in 33 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 29

Veterans With Something Left In The Tank

Paul Millsap — Denver Nuggets — Team Option
2016-17 Line: 18.1 points, 7.7 points + 3.7 assists in 34 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Paul Millsap’s arrival in Denver has made the Nuggets’ young squad a popular postseason pick and for good reason. If Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray continue their ascent alongside one of the game’s best veterans, there’s little chance that Denver will decline the opportunity to keep Millsap around in that third and final year of his deal.

Al Horford — Boston Celtics — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 14 points, 6.8 rebounds, + 5 assists in 32.3 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Marc Gasol — Memphis Grizzlies — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds + 1.3 blocks in 34.2 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 34

Marc Gasol has been a dynamic force for the Memphis Grizzlies since he broke through back in 2008-09. With Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (potentially) out the door, there are changes coming in Memphis sooner rather than later. Gasol has always been a strong defensive presence, but his growth as a three-point shooter (38.8 percent) last year could extend his career well into his 40s.

Tyson Chandler — Phoenix Suns — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 8.4 points, 11.5 rebounds + 1.4 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 36

Dwight Howard — Charlotte Hornets — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds on 63.3 percent in 29.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

As Basketball Insiders’ Joel Brigham pointed out on Monday, Dwight Howard is about to do some serious climbing on the NBA’s all-time leaders list. For Howard, who has had an overall rough go of things since he left Orlando in 2012, has still proven to be a very capable NBA center. His days as the franchise player are long gone, but he’s still averaged 10 or more rebounds in all 13 years of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Worthy Pieces On A Contender

D’Angelo Russell — Brooklyn Nets — Restricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 15.6 points, 4.8 assists + 2.1 three-pointers in 28.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 23

D’Angelo Russell could easily find himself in the same company as Towns and friends from up above if he turns in two improved seasons with the Nets. Russell will become an offensive focus for the retooling Brooklyn franchise and the team, who still owes one more first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics in 2018, would have a hard time parting with the young guard no matter the price. With the pressure off in the Eastern Conference, Russell’s league-wide standing could be much different in just one year.

Khris Middleton — Milwaukee Bucks — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds + 1.6 three-pointers in 30.7 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

Harrison Barnes — Dallas Mavericks — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 19.2 points, 5 rebounds + 1.5 assists in 35.5 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 27

In order for the Warriors to evolve from an impressively strong roster to its nearly unbeatable final form, Harrison Barnes was sacrificed to sign Durant. While Golden State steamrolled their way to another championship, Barnes performed fairly well in his top dog role with the Dallas Mavericks. Barnes still has a great distance to go before he reaches his ultimate potential, but he’ll be a wanted man should he opt out early in 2019 nonetheless.

George Hill — Sacramento Kings — Non-Guaranteed
2016-17 Line: 16.9 points, 4.2 assists + 1.9 three-pointers in 31.5 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 33

Ricky Rubio — Utah Jazz — Unrestricted Free Agent
2016-17 Line: 11.1 points, 9.1 assists + 1.7 steals in 32.9 minutes per game
Age on July 1st, 2019: 28

Almost overnight, Ricky Rubio became an afterthought on the Timberwolves’ perpetually underachieving roster. At this point, Rubio is a finished product and has the weathered playmaking chops to prove it. Although he never nailed down a sense of consistency from three-point range, Rubio still possesses the qualities of a very effective defender. For a playoff-bound team in Utah, Rubio can start rebuilding his brand ahead of unrestricted free agency in two years.

Jonas Valanciunas — Toronto Raptors — Player Option
2016-17 Line: 12 points, 9.5 rebounds on 55.7 percent in 25.8 minutes per game
Age on July 1st: 27

Other Intriguing Free Agents: Jeremy Lin (Unrestricted)Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Player Option), Jeff Teague (Player Option), J.R. Smith (Non-Guaranteed), Goran Dragic (Player Option), Nikola Vucevic (Unrestricted), Enes Kanter (Unrestricted), Frank Kaminsky (Restricted), Danny Green (Unrestricted), Thaddeus Young (Unrestricted).

Ultimately, 2019 is still a distant though for the casual NBA fan and half the players on this list may have their respective situations resolved by the time free agency opens in two years. However, front offices across the league are already planning out their next moves, all in hopes of finally thwarting those powerhouses out in the Western Conference. For front offices, it’s never too early to start preparing — where will your team be after another two seasons?

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

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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