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Over 125 Players To Be Cut Before Start of Season

Right now, 576 players are vying for 450 regular-season roster spots. Eric Pincus looks at each team’s roster situation.

Eric Pincus

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On Saturday, the Atlanta Hawks waived forward Richard Solomon, briefly reducing their roster to 19 players.  According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks will quickly replace Solomon with point guard Josh Magette.

Once signed, Magette will be the 330th player inked to a new contract this offseason.  And that doesn’t even include the restructured deals of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, or the extensions given to Giannis Antetokounmpo and C.J. McCollum.

A total of $1.3 billion in new contracts were doled out specifically for the 2016-17 season.  The league will have 576 players; this is problematic for at least 126 individuals, since teams can carry a maximum of 15 players – or 450 in total – into the regular season.

Roughly 21.9 percent of players will be cut, and the math may worsen considering not every team will carry a full 15-player roster into the regular season.  Additionally, free agents J.R. Smith and Donatas Motiejunas (restricted) are somewhat likely to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, respectively.

The Cavaliers are currently at the offseason maximum of 20 players, but can easily make room for Smith by shedding camp invites.  The Cavs are locked into 12 fully-guaranteed contracts, but veteran guard Mo Williams is retiring.  His $2.2 million contract will be waived or traded (and then subsequently waived by the incoming team) prior to the start of the season.

In the case of Motiejunas, the Rockets have 15 guaranteed players.  They’ll need to make a trade, waive a guaranteed salary or pass on Motiejunas altogether. Houston also has a sizable investment in rookie Kyle Wiltjer, guaranteeing $275,000 of the first year of his $543,471 rookie contract.  If waived, Wiltjer would likely end up with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBA Development League.  The challenge for the Rockets is that in the D-League, Wiltjer would be a free agent who is able to sign with another NBA franchise – even after collecting a salary for going to camp with Houston.

A number of teams have roster crunch issues. The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers have 16 fully-guaranteed players. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t trade for Joffrey Lauvergne (from the Denver Nuggets) just to waive him.

Camp invites will do everything within their power to earn a spot, regardless of how uphill the battle may be.  Many will ultimately land in the D-League as affiliate players.

Like Solomon, some players have already come and gone like Xavier Henry, who was briefly signed for training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks, but was quickly let go.  Three second-round picks (Marcus Denmon and Ryan Richards of the San Antonio Spurs, and Tomislav Zubcic of the Thunder) accepted their required tenders, only to be waived soon after by their respective franchises.

Opening night of the NBA season is Oct. 25.  The following is a list of teams and their current roster count, with the amount in parenthesis indicating a player’s partial salary guarantee:

Team Guaranteed Non/Partial
Atlanta Hawks 15 5
Would need to open a spot for Mike Muscala, who has $508,000 guaranteed, or Matt Costello ($50,000), Ryan Kelly, Will Bynum or Magette.
Boston Celtics 16 4
Ben Bentil has a large $250,000 guarantee but with players like James Young and R.J. Hunter, he may be fighting to make the final 15. Bentil may be D-League bound with others like Damion Lee ($50,000), Marcus Georges-Hunt ($25,000) and Jalen Jones ($25,000).
Brooklyn Nets 15 5
Chase Budinger’s camp deal locks in fully if he makes it to opening night.  He’ll need to beat out a player with a guaranteed deal.  Others hoping to stick include Yogi Ferrell ($100,000), Egidijus Mockevicius ($100,000), Beau Beech ($45,000) and Jorge Gutierrez.
Charlotte Hornets 13 6
The Hornets have six players fighting for two spots, including Aaron Harrison, whose sophomore salary is non-guaranteed.  Others include Mike Tobey ($75,000), Treveon Graham ($75,000), Rasheed Sulaimon, Andrew Andrews and Perry Ellis.
Chicago Bulls 13 6
Cristiano Felicio, in his second year with the team, seems like a lock to be the 14th player.  That would leave one spot for Thomas Walkup ($69,500), Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, J.J. Avila and Vince Hunter.
Cleveland Cavaliers 12 8
Presuming J.R. Smith ultimately takes the place of Mo Williams, Cleveland would have three spots for eight players including DeAndre Liggins ($25,000), Jordan McRae, Cory Jefferson, Markel Brown, Eric Moreland, Dahntay Jones, John Holland and Jonathan Holmes.
Dallas Mavericks 14 6
Six rookies are vying for one roster spot: Dorian Finney-Smith ($100,000), Nicolas Brussino ($100,000), Kyle Collinsworth ($70,000), Jameel Warney ($20,000), Keith Hornsby and C.J. Williams.
Denver Nuggets 14 6
JaKarr Sampson and Axel Toupane are non-guaranteed holdovers from last season.  The Nuggets also have four new players in camp: Robbie Hummel ($150,000), Jarnell Stokes ($150,000), Nate Wolters ($50,000) and D.J. Kennedy ($50,000).
Detroit Pistons 14 4
One spot for returning Lorenzo Brown or newcomers Nikola Jovanovic ($30,000), Ray McCallum or Trey Freeman.
Golden State Warriors 14 6
Elliot Williams has a sizable guaranteed at $250,000.  Other tryouts include Scott Wood ($50,000), Elgin Cook ($50,000), Cameron Jones ($50,000), Phil Pressey ($35,000) and JaVale McGee.
Houston Rockets 15 4
In addition to the uncertain status of Donatas Motiejunas, the Rockets have the $275,000 guarantee to Wiltjer, along with Isaiah Taylor ($50,000), P.J. Hairston and Bobby Brown.
Indiana Pacers 16 3
The Mavericks paid Indiana to take on the guaranteed contract of Jeremy Evans, which could make him the odd-man out.  The Pacers also have Julyan Stone ($50,000), Alex Poythress ($35,381) and Nick Zeisloft ($25,000).
Los Angeles Clippers 15 2
It will be a challenge for Dorell Wright and Xavier Munford to find a roster spot with the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers 14 6
While Yi Jianlian’s $8 million contract has only $250,000 guaranteed, he is likely to make the team. That doesn’t leave much room for Zach Auguste ($60,000), Metta World Peace, Travis Wear or Julian Jacobs – barring a move to open a roster spot.
Memphis Grizzlies 13 7
The favorites to make the team include Vince Carter ($4.3 million, with $2 million guaranteed) and JaMychal Green ($980,431 with $200,000 locked in).  Others vying for a spot include Troy Williams ($150,000), D.J. Stephens ($35,000), Tony Wroten ($25,000), Wayne Selden and Chris Crawford.
Miami HEAT 15 5
The future of Chris Bosh is in limbo, but in the meantime, the team doesn’t have much room for Briante Weber ($327,989), Rodney McGruder ($150,000), Stefan Jankovic ($100,000), Okaro White ($100,000) and Keith Benson ($75,000).
Milwaukee Bucks 15 4
No obvious room for Orlando Johnson, J.J. O’Brien, Jabari Brown or Jaleel Roberts – none of whom have any guaranteed money in their deal.
Minnesota Timberwolves 14 3
Kevin Garnett’s retirement opened up a potential spot for Toure’ Murry, John Lucas III or Rasual Butler.
New Orleans Pelicans 15 5
A full roster presents a challenge for Lance Stephenson ($100,000), Robert Sacre, Chris Copeland, Shawn Dawson and Quinn Cook.
New York Knicks 15 3
Roster space may land J.P. Tokoto ($100,000), Chasson Randle and Ron Baker ($75,000) with the Westchester Knicks.
Oklahoma City Thunder 15 5
Fully guaranteed Mitch McGary, who is suspended for breaking the NBA’s substance abuse policy, could dealt or cut outright to open room for Joffrey Lauvergne ($854,860).  Semaj Christon ($200,000), Chris Wright ($100,000), Kaleb Tarczewski ($75,000) and Alex Caruso ($50,000) may end up with the Oklahoma City Blue.
Orlando Magic 13 6
There are two open spots for six non-guaranteed players: Damjan Rudez, Arinze Onuaku, Cliff Alexander, Branden Dawson, Nick Johnson and Kevin Murphy.
Philadelphia 76ers 11 9
Elton Brand has a sizable $1 million guarantee, while Robert Covington ($50,000), Hollis Thompson, T.J. McConnell and Jerami Grant were all regular contributors last season.  If they all stick, that’s 15 players.  Others vying for a roster spot include Brandon Paul ($155,000), Shawn Long ($65,000), James Webb ($65,000) and Cat Barber ($50,000).
Phoenix Suns 14 5
John Jenkins is hoping to stick for another year in Phoenix, while Derrick Jones ($42,500), Shaquille Harrison, Gracin Bakumanya and Derek Cooke Jr. hope to get the 15th spot.
Portland Trail Blazers 14 4
Luis Montero is competing to stick with Portland for a second season.  Tim Quarterman ($75,000), Grant Jerrett and Greg Stiemsma would all like Portland’s final open slot.
Sacramento Kings 14 4
With Darren Collison suspended for the first eight games of the season, Ty Lawson may be the opening-night starter despite his non-guaranteed status.  Others hoping to make the team include Isaiah Cousins ($100,000), Jordan Farmar and Lamar Patterson.
San Antonio Spurs 14 5
Five players are competing for one spot: Bryn Forbes ($125,000), Patricio Garino ($100,000), Ryan Arcidiacono ($75,000), Joel Anthony and Nicolas Laprovittola.
Toronto Raptors 14 6
Toronto has one spot open and six players fighting for it: Brady Heslip ($56,500), E.J. Singler ($50,000), Fred VanVleet ($50,000), Jarrod Uthoff ($50,000), Yanick Moreira and Drew Crawford.
Utah Jazz 14 6
Jeff Withey has the edge to be the 15th player, but others like Marcus Paige ($125,000), Henry Sims ($75,000), Quincy Ford ($75,000), Christapher Johnson and Eric Dawson hope otherwise.
Washington Wizards 12 6
The Wizards have three spots, potentially for Jarell Eddie ($175,000), Danuel House ($100,000), Daniel Ochefu ($50,000), Sheldon McClellan ($50,000), Casper Ware and/or Johnny O’Bryant.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA

NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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