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Washington Wizards 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Washington Wizards are the clear-cut front-runner to win the Southeast Division. The question is can they come together as a team to really compete for something more than that? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Wizards in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

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The Washington Wizards are here to play solid but not spectacular basketball, reach the playoffs, win a series and then graciously bow out — just as they have in three of the last five years. More or less, the Wizards sport a former All-NBA point guard with an All-Star-minded sidekick and compete in the weaker conference, but they’ve never managed to defeat their massive second-round hurdles. To their credit, however, Washington keeps trying to improve wherever they can each offseason instead of fruitlessly blowing it all up.

Due to financial constraints, Washington could only make middle-tier moves this summer and did so by trading Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers, signing Dwight Howard and drafting Troy Brown Jr. On top of that, they added Jeff Green and claimed Thomas Bryant off waivers. Those moves won’t make them championship challengers, but there’s still hope that they’ll finally become conference contenders — a fate they’ve chased since John Wall arrived in 2010.

Supported once again by Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr., is this the year that the Wizards fulfill their destiny or will they be just another bump in the road on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals?

To start us off, here are some thoughts from the Basketball Insiders team about the Wizards’ upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this offseason. The Philadelphia 76ers are already a top Eastern Conference team with two young stars on track to become superstars and a core of talented young players. The Boston Celtics are getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury this season. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards acquired Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard. To be fair, Rivers and Howard are both capable players who have limitations in their respective games but could help Washington this season. However, it’s hard to argue that Washington did anything to push themselves ahead of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. For some teams that doesn’t matter a whole lot since they aren’t currently trying to contend for a championship. The Wizards are and there doesn’t seem to be any path for them to push ahead of their top Eastern Conference rivals at this point, much less the top Western Conference teams.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

John Wall and Bradley Beal should be one of the best back courts in basketball. Otto Porter Jr. should be the perfect compliment to that talented duo. The Wizards should be a top team in the Eastern Conference. But they haven’t been and it’s hard to understand why. Last season, Washington was at its best when the team lived by the “Everybody Eats” mantra. If they just abide by that, they should be able to accomplish what they want. Maybe swapping out Marcin Gortat for Dwight Howard will do the trick? Who knows, but Scott Brooks is running out of time to elevate D.C. to where it’s supposed to be. Winning the Southeast Division would be a good start.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Spencer Davies

The Wizards are going all in this season. Usually, adding Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers to your supporting cast would be seen as a good thing. Instead, most NBA audiences laughed at the Wizards because of Rivers’ and Howard’s reputations as locker room cancers. That wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the Wizards having a very tense locker room situation last season. Even if Rivers and Howard are on their best behavior, there’s no guarantee that adding them will pay off. For all the talent that they have, Washington has failed to maintain any consistency in the John Wall-Bradley Beal era. If things don’t improve, this could be it for them.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Matt John

At this point, it seems like we have a pretty good idea of what the Washington Wizards are. At their very best, they can compete with nearly anyone in the East – but they’re rarely at that level for a number of reasons, and look like little but a middling playoff team in the weaker conference when they’re not on. Their offseason, which included bringing in the mercurial Dwight Howard as well as Austin Rivers, likely won’t do much to stem that inconsistency. It starts at the top with point guard John Wall, who shows flashes of greatness nearly every game…when he isn’t leading the league in time spent walking on the court, that is. Unless Howard is truly revitalized (long shot at this point) or the Wizards get major internal development from someone like Kelly Oubre or Bradley Beal, it’s hard to see them really challenging the Bostons and Torontos of the East – even if they take home another division crown.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Ben Dowsett

On pure talent, the Wizards should be among the top teams in basketball; on pure talent. The problem is there is something that’s just not right with the Wizards. Maybe they break through this year and not only stay healthy, but learn how to compete as a unit. The problem is there just isn’t enough evidence to think that’s going to happen. On talent, the Wizards should be the second or third best team in the East, but until they show they can make that happen, it’s hard to put them much higher than top four.

1st place – Southeast Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Bradley Beal

With Wall on the shelf from late January to the end of March, Beal thrived in his featured role. During that period of time, Beal rang up 23.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game and earned his first-ever All-Star appearance. Despite his three-point percentage dropping from an elite 40 percent clip to a serviceable 37.5, Beal averaged 2.4 of them per contest over 82 games. In total, Beal knocked down 199 threes, even without his backcourt playmaker for half of them, and finished 13th-best in the NBA during 2017-18. When Beal is cooking, there are few players more unguardable — take, for example, the 41 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and 6-for-11 from three-point range effort he dropped on Oklahoma City just before February.

The sharpshooter even doled out a career-best 11 assists during a narrow three-point loss to the Indiana Pacers last year — so perhaps a larger share of the offensive possessions should be on the table moving forward. It’s hard to believe that Beal is just 25 years old and his best basketball is surely ahead of him, regardless of usage, role or responsibilities.

Top Defensive Player: Dwight Howard

Although Howard has become a maligned personality as of late, he’s still a capable NBA player — particularly so on the defensive end.

Almost incredulously, Wall led the Wizards in blocks per game last season at 1.1, with Gortat trailing shortly behind at 0.7. Over 14 years, Howard has always exceeded that mark, even posting six straight seasons of two-plus blocks per game from 2007-13. Those superhuman efforts are likely long gone for the 32-year-old, but his regular presence will help to mend a sub-par defensive unit. The Wizards allowed 45.4 points in the paint per game, which registered as the 12th-worst mark in 2017-18, while their 4.3 blocks were also toward the league cellar — two places Howard can definitively make a difference in.

Top Playmaker: John Wall

Headed into his ninth season, Wall remains one of the greatest playmakers this league has. Through 41 contests last year, Wall notched 9.6 assists per game, a tally that would’ve left him trailing just Russell Westbrook (10.3) had he officially qualified for the category. In the three seasons before that, Wall averaged 10-plus assists and landed in the top three league-wide each time too. In transition, defending Wall and his lightning-quick pace remains a total nightmare. Lag off and Wall will burn you, but guard him tightly and the unpredictable trailblazer will always find a wide-open three-point shooter.

Wall continues to be a frontrunner for the best point guard in the Eastern Conference and his fast-breaking distribution qualities are a huge reason why. The Wizards went just 20-21 without Wall in 2017-18, so they’ll be anxious to get a full campaign from their five-time All-Star and floor general. Quite simply, Wall puts his teammates in position to succeed — so don’t be surprised if Howard undergoes a much-needed career resurgence next to this playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Bradley Beal

Due to the extra volume Beal experienced sans Wall, this category comes out a little skewed. Undoubtedly, Beal made (38) and took (124) the most clutch-time shots for Washington in 2017-18 and converted on a 30.6 percent conversion rate. Of course, there’s room to improve, but with teams keying in on Beal, it’s a solid total for the soon to be seventh-year marksman. To put it in context, Beal was only beat out in overall clutch-time buckets by LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard — so, it’s still some great company to keep, all things considered.

In addition, a special shout-out goes to Oubre, who shot 16-for-32 in such late-game situations, including a 47.1 percent clip from three-point range as well — a promising outlook for the developing wing, but more on him below.

The Unheralded Player: Kelly Oubre Jr.

While the Wizards’ current stars and big money players earn the headlines, Oubre’s development is among the most important storylines heading into the new campaign. The merits of Wall, Beal, Howard and Porter are not up for debate but if the Wizards want to take the next step, they’ll look toward Oubre to elevate his game. Oubre, 22, can be a handful for defenders and the 6-foot-7 small forward averaged 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds on 40.3 percent last season. When Oubre scored 14 or more points in 2017-18, Washington went 17-10 — so his consistency will be key for a bench unit that recorded only 35.6 points per game, 15th-worst in the NBA.

If Oubre can improve his 34.1 percent rate from behind the arc, there’s a chance that the potential-laden professional can breakout before he reaches restricted free agency next summer.

Best New Addition: Dwight Howard

Howard arrives in Washington this fall after being traded by Charlotte to Brooklyn, wherein the Nets promptly bought him out — so he’s officially joining his fourth team in four seasons. Even if the experiment eventually comes up short, Howard appears to be a major upgrade at center. The future Hall of Famer has averaged a double-double in all 14 years of his career and, with little competition behind him, that streak isn’t in jeopardy. Gortat was no slouch (8.4 points, 7.6 rebounds), but rolling the dice on Howard is precisely the type of inexpensive, high-reward gamble this franchise must take.

Howard has played with loads of talented point guards in the past — James Harden and Kemba Walker included — but his fit next to Wall feels like its been years in the making. Howard can still (mostly) anchor a defense and catch lobs, so what else could you want? As an above average rim protector and shot blocker, Howard effectively addresses two weakness in one fell swoop.

If the locker room stays intact, this will be a no-brainer victory for the Wizards.

– Ben Nadeau

WHO WE LIKE

1. Otto Porter Jr.

One year removed from matching a max offer sheet from the Nets, the return on Porter has been acceptable, if not a tiny bit disappointing. Last campaign, his averages of 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.8 three-pointers on 44.1 percent from deep nearly replicated his statistics from the season prior. That type of output is a nice sign of consistency, but it’s also not the bump the Wizards would’ve wanted after committing all that precious cap space to him.

Still, there’s plenty to like about the Washington wing as he further grows into his all-around game. For starters, the economical 6-foot-8 scorer shot 50.3 percent in 2017-18, a mark only beat out by Michael Beasley (50.7), E’Twaun Moore (50.8), Kevin Durant (51.6) and LeBron James (54.2) for small forwards. Of those four, none of them shot the three at a better clip than Porter, who finished with the third-best rate in the entire NBA.

To this point, we all know what the Wizards’ stars are capable of but if they want to get past their Celtics and Raptors-sized obstacles, they’ll need Porter to take a giant leap. As one of the league’s exceedingly efficient shooters, he’s already won half the battle — but will the volume opportunities ever be there for him alongside Wall and Beal?

2. Markieff Morris

After setting a career-bests for three-point percentage in back-to-back seasons, Morris has been a steady contributor in the nation’s capital. Now just one year away from an important trip to free agency at the age of 29, expect the 6-foot-10 stretch forward to keep the good times rolling. At 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game — and with the fifth-most technical fouls in 2017-18 — Morris will likely become the last option on offense with Howard in tow. Certainly, that’s not particularly ideal for Morris, but it’s a solid situation for the Wizards, both offensively and defensively.

Morris is not elite on either end, but he’ll adequately chip in, won’t take touches away from the stars and, importantly, cares a whole lot about winning ball games. For a team looking to compete at the highest levels, Washington could do far, far worse than the reliable hand of Morris.

3. Austin Rivers

No longer a punchline, Rivers should be a fantastic fit for Washington off the bench. As an improved ball handler, a solid defender and an even better bucket-getter, Rivers’ final efforts in Los Angeles turned out to be his best statistical outcome yet. Rivers averaged 15.1 points, four assists and 1.2 steals over 59 starts for the Clippers, even knocking down a career-best 2.2 three-pointers per game on 37.8 percent from long range to boot. Obviously, he’ll be behind Wall and Beal on the depth chart and he won’t hit 33.7 minutes per game again, but his acquisition might turn out to be one of the most consequential, under-the-radar moves this summer.

Rivers will join forces with Oubre, Brown and Green to revitalize a middle of the pack second unit — but don’t be surprised if the veteran starts popping up in Sixth Man of the Year discussions come March.

4. Scott Brooks

Heading into his third season as head coach of the Wizards, Brooks has done a fine job of keeping his roster of strong personalities content — this season, it’ll be even tougher. Howard and Rivers don’t come without their own personal dramas, but Brooks has succeeded in the balancing act thus far. Last year was tarnished by Wall’s injury, but 2016-17 saw the Wizards rank ninth in offensive rating (108.5). If Brooks can get them back to that level of execution, then Washington could be in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round.

Every conference contender needs a great coach: the Celtics have Brad Stevens, the Raptors had Dwane Casey and the 76ers have Brett Brown. Brooks frequently goes unmentioned in this category, but he’s proven himself in the postseason before — now he may finally have the roster to do so again.

5. Troy Brown. Jr.

The selection of Brown at No. 15 overall this June came as a surprise with their backcourt starters locked down for the foreseeable future. For now, Brown won’t help much in the three-point shooting department — 29.1 percent at Oregon — but he’ll provide plenty of bench versatility nonetheless. In Las Vegas this summer, Brown averaged 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over five games — an exhibition of skills that’ll hopefully keep him out of the G-League and well-supplanted in Brooks’ rotation soon enough.

He’s got legitimate promise as an NBA-level scorer and at the age of 19, Brown is the fourth-youngest player in the entire league, so this might be a name you’ll see for a very long time. To start the campaign, Brown will be buried behind Porter and Oubre, but keep an eye on him. His three-point efforts will need to improve if he wants to carve out a bigger and better role this season and beyond. However, Wizards fans should be awfully excited about this rookie.

– Ben Nadeau

STRENGTHS

When Wall is healthy, the Wizards often rank near the top in transition points per game, even finishing in the top four in 2016-17. Ultimately, the previous campaign was a struggle without Wall for half the year and their record — 43-39, eighth seed — reflected that. This time around, Wall is not only injury-free but the additions of Rivers and Brown, plus the furthered development of Porter and Oubre, should conceivably have the Wizards in the conversation once again.

Out on the fast break, Wall makes the Wizards a dangerous dark horse candidate in the conference without question. Both Morris and Porter will extend the floor around Wall and Beal, while Howard is gifted at cleaning the glass. Even the bench, which has been remarkably thin in recent seasons, is looking deeper than ever.

If they stay healthy and get back into their signature transition game … you’ve officially been warned.

– Ben Nadeau

WEAKNESSES

The Wizards made just 9.9 three-pointers per game in 2017-18, the 10th-worst mark in the entire league. Wall will get his teammates into high-value shot attempts, naturally, but the jury is still out on the point guard’s career-best 37.1 three-point percentage from last year. Rivers’ 2.2 three-pointers per game will help ease those worries, but they came with starter’s minutes, a number that’ll decrease playing behind an All-Star-worthy backcourt. The Wizards’ strongest competition in the conference all made three-pointers with success last season — Raptors (fourth-best), Celtics (seventh) and 76ers (12th) — so the D.C.-based team has some catching up to do.

Beyond that, those large personalities will need to be watched closely, particularly so after adding Howard and Rivers. In an already weirdly-contested locker room, all this has the potential to be a beautiful, unifying partnership or a regrettable mess.

– Ben Nadeau

THE BURNING QUESTION

Are the Wizards a member of the Eastern Conference elite?

While the Celtics, Raptors and 76ers have the best odds of controlling the top postseason seeds again, there’s definitely an argument for Washington to join the pack, if not for a few caveats. Again, they must stay healthy. Generally speaking, Wall has done so since 2013, but we’ve seen how average this team ends up being without him — and would be again, even with their improved depth this time around.

Furthermore, the locker room must keep it together — another gimme, clearly, but this is no cakewalk. It’ll be up to Brooks to build a rotation that caters to everybody’s strengths and weakness while also maximizing their window for success, which is obviously easier said than done. However, this is probably the most talented roster the Wizards have had in over a decade.

Unfortunately, the Wizards also must deal with the pesky Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami HEAT in the conference’s second-tier, so they’re no longer the same shoo-in they’ve been before. Washington will absolutely improve on their barely .500 record from 2017-18 and they’ve got an outside shot of competing with the very best the East has to offer.

But even with the measurable upgrades in Howard, Rivers and Brown, it’d be tough to pick against their conference rivals like Boston or Philadelphia in the playoffs.

– Ben Nadeau

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Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine desires respect for new contract

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According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine wants the respect he deserves for his contract extension. On Monday morning before Team USA’s practice to prepare for Tuesday’s match against Spain, the 26-year-old guard said to reporters, “I just want my respect, that’s the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If that’s now or later, it’s something we’ve got to work out internally.” In the 2020-21 season, in 58 games played, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 50.7 percent from the field and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Regarding the “outplayed my contract” comment, his argument his fair. Last season, with 200 three-point field goals made, he ranked ninth overall in the league. Despite the Bulls finishing 31-41 (.431) last season, he led the team in points and assists. Per ESPN, they are also reporting that Chicago is trying to work out a four-year, $105 million contract extension for their star guard. Though, this deal is expected to fall below his market value. In terms of signing available free agents this offseason, some Bulls fans are speculating the organization will pursue either Knicks’ shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, Lakers’ power forward/center Markieff Morris or Pelicans’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

On July 13, 2018, the 2014 13th pick of the draft signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. LaVine earned $19,500,000 last season, and he is set to earn $19,500,000 in the upcoming season. It is not urgent for Chicago to extend LaVine’s contract this offseason. The organization will have the full rights to re-sign him to a new deal for next season in 2022.

However, the guard will also become an unrestricted free agent next year, so the Bulls should work towards fixing their salary cap issues right now. Referencing Spotrac, center Nikola Vucevic has a cap figure of $24 million. Of this amount, his future guaranteed cash is $22 million. One notable 2021-22 cap hold is Lauri Markkanen. His qualifying offer is $9,026,952, and his cap figure is $20,194,524. On March 2, 2020, Markkanen was recalled from the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Furthermore, on March 25, 2021, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu were traded by the Orlando Magic to the Bulls in exchange for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick. This is quite the gamble for the Bulls organization, considering they traded away two future first-round picks. Vucevic is set to earn $24 million for the 2021-22 season. Chicago has $56,679,846 available in cap space. Their current luxury tax space is $29,405746.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks will pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers.

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