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Projecting 2017-18 NBA Cap Room Under New Deal

Eric Pincus projects the maximum cap space that each team could have in July under the pending CBA.

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With the NBA and NBPA agreeing to terms, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be in place well before the 2017-18 season.

The NBA still projects next year’s salary cap to be $103 million, but a number of rule changes could diminish spending power across the league, detailed previously by Basketball Insiders (here and here).

Specifically, the salary scale for first-round picks will climb. Empty roster charges for every open spot under 13 will be the rookie minimum salary of $815,615.

Teams will no longer need to hold off on signing their first-rounders until they utilize their cap room. Now, the industry standard 120 percent of rookie scale will also be the team’s cap hold while the player remains unsigned.

Additionally, minimum salaries rise to as high as $2.3 million, depending on years of service. Any players under contract below that threshold will receive bumps in pay.

Teams may have to choose between going under the cap or staying over, with the Mid-Level Exception (MLE) climbing to $8.4 million and the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) to $3.3 million.

A team that can get to $11.7 million in cap space would have the same spending power if they stay over the cap and use their exceptions. The most they’d be able to pay a single player would be $8.4 million in the first year, but they may have more flexibility above the cap.

Maximum salaries project to be $25.8 million for players with up to six years of experience, $30.1 million for those with seven to nine years and $36.1 million with 10 or more years.

Those who qualify as designated veterans, while entering their eighth or ninth seasons, can re-sign with their existing teams to the highest max tier ($36.1 million), provided they reach certain qualifications (MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA Team, etc.).

The following is an estimate of the maximum cap space teams would have if they let all their free agents go, with a draft order based on the standings as of December 20, with ties broken randomly.

Team Maximum
(in millions)
Potential Free Agents (notable cap holds listed, in parenthesis and in millions)
Golden State Warriors $58.0 Stephen Curry ($18.2), Kevin Durant ($31.8 or player option of $22.7), Andre Iguodala ($16.7), Shaun Livingston ($11), Zaza Pachulia, David West, Ian Clark, James McAdoo, Anderson Varejao, JaVale McGee
Chicago Bulls $54.1 Dwyane Wade ($27.8 or player option of $23.8), Rajon Rondo (partially-guaranteed $13.4), Taj Gibson ($13.4), Nikola Mirotic ($8.7), Michael Carter-Williams ($8.0), Isaiah Canaan, Cristiano Felicio, R.J. Hunter
Philadelphia 76ers $53.6 Nerlens Noel ($11.0), Ersan Ilyasova ($12.6), Sergio Rodriquez ($9.6), Gerald Henderson (non-guaranteed $9.0), Richaun Holmes, Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, T.J. McConnell
Sacramento Kings $52.2 Rudy Gay ($20.0 or player option of $14.3), Ben McLemore ($10.0), Arron Afflalo (partially-guaranteed $12.5), Anthony Tolliver (partially-guaranteed $8.0), Matt Barnes ($7.4 or player option of $6.4), Darren Collison ($9.9), Omri Casspi, Ty Lawson
Brooklyn Nets $40.6 Bojan Bogdanovic ($6.8), Luis Scola ($6.6), Randy Foye, Anthony Bennett, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie
Denver Nuggets $40.1 Danilo Gallinari ($22.6 or player option of $16.1), Mike Miller, Alonzo Gee
Los Angeles Clippers $39.0 Chris Paul ($34.3 or early termination option of $24.3), Blake Griffin ($30.2 or early termination option of $21.4), J.J. Redick ($11.1), Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce (retiring)
Dallas Mavericks $32.9 Dirk Nowitzki ($36.1 or team option of $25.0), Andrew Bogut ($16.5), Deron Williams ($11.7), Devin Harris, Salah Mejri, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino, Jonathan Gibson
Boston Celtics $32.8 Amir Johnson ($15.6), Tyler Zeller (non-guaranteed $8.0), Jonas Jerebko ($9.5), Kelly Olynyk ($7.7), James Young, Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey, Gerald Green — maximum scenario assumes Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic stay overseas)
Utah Jazz $32.7 Gordon Hayward ($25.1), George Hill ($12.0), Boris Diaw (non-guaranteed $7.5), Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles, Jeff Withey, Raul Neto, Joel Bolomboy
Los Angeles Lakers $31.5 Jose Calderon ($11.6), Nick Young ($8.2 or player option of $5.7), Tarik Black (non-guaranteed $6.7), Marcelo Huertas, Metta World Peace, Thomas Robinson
Phoenix Suns $30.7 P.J. Tucker ($10.1), Alex Len ($12.1), Leandro Barbosa, John Jenkins, Alan Williams, Derrick Jones
Orlando Magic $30.1 Serge Ibaka ($18.4), Jeff Green (18.0), Jodie Meeks ($12.4), C.J. Watson (partially-guaranteed $5.0), C.J. Wilcox, Damjan Rudez, Arinze Onuaku, Stephen Zimmerman
Minnesota Timberwolves $30.0 Jordan Hill (non-guaranteed $4.2), Brandon Rush ($4.2), Shabazz Muhammad ($7.6), Adreian Payne, John Lucas III. Projection assumes Nikola Pekovic medically retires.
Atlanta Hawks $27.8 Paul Millsap ($30.1 or player option of $21.5), Tiago Splitter ($12.8), Kyle Korver ($10.0), Kris Humphries ($5.2), Thabo Sefolosha ($7.3), Mike Scott ($6.3), Tim Hardaway Jr. ($5.7), Mike Muscala, Ryan Kelly
New Orleans Pelicans $27.6 Jrue Holiday ($16.9), Tyreke Evans ($15.3), Langston Galloway ($6.2 or player option of $5.4), Dante Cunningham ($5.6 or player option of $4.1), Terrence Jones, Reggie Williams
San Antonio Spurs $25.7 Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Jonathon Simmons, Bryn Forbes, Nicolas Laprovittola
Indiana Pacers $25.4 Jeff Teague ($13.2), Rodney Stuckey ($10.5 or player option of $7.0), C.J. Miles ($8.7 or player option of $4.8), Lavoy Allen ($4.8 or team option of $4.0), Aaron Brooks, Kevin Seraphin, Joseph Young, Rakeem Christmas, Glenn Robinson III, Georges Niang
New York Knicks $23.2 Derrick Rose ($30.1), Brandon Jennings ($6.0), Justin Holiday, Sasha Vujacic, Maurice N’dour, Mason Plumlee, Ron Baker
Miami HEAT $18.6 Wayne Ellington (non-guaranteed $6.3), Josh McRoberts ($11 or player option of $6.0), Derrick Williams ($5.5), Udonis Haslem ($7.6), James Johnson ($4.8), Dion Waiters ($3.5 or player option of $3.0) , Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder
Houston Rockets $12.4 K.J. McDaniels ($4.3 or team option of $3.5), Tyler Ennis, Nene, Kyle Wiltjer
Toronto Raptors $11.3 Kyle Lowry ($18 or player option of $12.0), Patrick Patterson ($9.1), Jared Sullinger ($6.8), Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet
Charlotte Hornets $9.1 Spencer Hawes ($11.4 or player option of $6.0), Ramon Sessions ($7.2 or team option of $6.3), Roy Hibbert ($6.0), Brian Roberts, Christian Wood, Aaron Harrison, Treveon Graham
Memphis Grizzlies $8.5 Zach Randolph ($15.5), Tony Allen ($10.5), Vince Carter, JaMychal Green, Troy Williams
Cleveland Cavaliers $0 Mike Dunleavy (partially-guaranteed $5.2), DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, Kay Felder, Chris Andersen, James Jones, Mo Williams (retiring)
Detroit Pistons $0 Aron Baynes ($8.5 or player option of $6.5), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($9.2), Reggie Bullock ($5.6), Beno Udrih, Darrun Hilliard, Michael Gbinije
Milwaukee Bucks $0 Greg Monroe ($22.3 or player option of $17.9), Tony Snell ($5.9), Michael Beasley, Jason Terry, Steve Novak
Oklahoma City Thunder $0 Andre Roberson ($5.5), Nick Collison ($7.1), Anthony Morrow, Joffrey Lauvergne, Jerami Grant, Semaj Christon
Portland Trail Blazers $0 Mason Plumlee ($5.8), Festus Ezeli (partially-guaranteed $7.7), Pat Connaughton, Tim Quarterman
Washington Wizards $0 Otto Porter ($14.7), Trey Burke ($8.5), Marcus Thornton, Daniel Ochefu, Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan

Nearly every team was under the cap this past offseason, but next summer 10 teams will either have no space at all or about as much as the MLE and BAE combined. Of the 20 franchises that might have spending power, only 14 will have enough to spend on a second-tier max player ($30.1 million). Seven teams will have room for the longest tenured players ($36.1 million). While five teams have space to pay two players at the $25.8 million max, none can afford two at the middle tier.

For most teams to open up significant cap space, they would need to let go of multiple productive players. After the stars select their destinations, franchises may choose instead to stay over the cap to try and retain the core of their roster, using exceptions to add to the mix.

The days of players like Bismack Biyombo, Tyler Johnson, Luol Deng, Allen Crabbe and Timofey Mozgov getting contracts starting at $15 million a year are likely over. The market for quality role players may drop down to the $8.4 million MLE. That doesn’t mean a few free agents won’t be overpaid this summer, that seems to be an inevitability every year – but not on the scale of 2016.

The new deal will provide more salary for maximum players, minimum players and draft picks – and yet the split of revenue remains at a maximum of 51 percent for the players. Conversely, a group of players will earn less: the middle class.

Note that the agreement between the NBA and NBPA won’t be finalized until mid-January and is subject to change. Teams can make trades or buy-out players to open up additional cap space. Several players have non-guaranteed salaries or team/player options. In most cases, to get to maximum cap room, the assumption is that all players without 100 percent locked in salary are off the books.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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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