Posted Jul 7, 2014 10:35 AM
The narrative is already building.
If LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony cared about winning, they'd take less money.
As basketball's two biggest free agents survey the landscape this month and decide where they will continue their careers, each has leverage that most players can only dream of having.
James has the entire league on hold, with even the slightest hint that he's exploring options other than returning to the Heat sending the NBA blogosophere into apoplexy. Anthony's sway is only slightly less powerful, having all of Gotham hanging on his intentions.
This time, James' camp has played it low key, not asking for dog and pony shows with the four-time MVP and his coterie in attendance. It's Anthony who has gone on tour, his 'Melo-palooza stopping in Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles, the last where he met with the Lakers and, for a second time, with the incumbent Knicks. At the meeting, New York again told Anthony it would give him a max deal that would pay him $129 million over five years.
Meanwhile, James is, for the first time in his career, also seeking a max contract, which would pay him $20.7 million next season and, if he stayed in Miami, $119 million over five years.
And here is where the narrative kicks in.
If James took just a little less, the argument goes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh wouldn't have to take as big a pay cut. That would give the Heat cap room to sign an impact free agent or two, which would make it a near certainty that the SuperFriends could return intact.
The Greater Cleveland Area, meanwhile, is at Defcon 1 this morning, abuzz with rumors of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's plane making a clandestine trip Sunday afternoon to South Florida.
If Carmelo didn't insist on $129 million from the Knicks, the argument goes, New York would have the cap space to be able to add difference makers around him.
But it's a one-sided argument, which always centers on how the player should sacrifice for the good of the team.
It's hard not to be seduced by this line of thinking. Just two weeks ago, I wrote glowing prose about how selfless the Spurs' star players have been over the years, taking less money than they could, contract after contract. It is admirable, to be sure, a tribute to how the Spurs' organization creates an atmosphere of trust with its star players.
But if Tim Duncan woke up after The Finals and asked for a max deal, would he be wrong? Any less selfless?
The 2011 lockout was a showdown over a financial system the NBA said was no longer tenable. The league insisted most teams were losing money and would hemorrhage money if the system wasn't changed, and if players didn't give back a large percentage of the hard-earned gains they had.
The owners started with what they usually ask for, a hard salary cap. They didn't get that, but they got the next-best thing: incredibly punitive financial penalties on teams that continued to exceed the salary cap. And they got the players to reduce their take of Basketball Related Income from 57 percent down to 50 percent, a giveback of almost $3 billion to the owners over the next 10 years.
The owners won.
Like Ali beat Cleveland Williams.
Like Secretariat beat Sham in the Belmont.
Like Reagan beat Carter in 1980.
A Los Angeles NBA franchise is, at least for the moment, selling for $2 billion -- and it isn't the Lakers. And that wasn't even the most shocking team sale in the last 12 months. No one expected the Bucks, in one of the league's smallest cities, to be able to fetch $550 million on the open market. The league has to beat away the billionaires who want to buy NBA franchises with a stick.
A memo sent by the league to its teams and first obtained by Grantland.com late last month detailed the state of team finances in 2013-14. The Lakers were projected to earn $158.3 million in profits last season, before paying their luxury tax and the enhanced revenue sharing program teams adopted concurrently with the last CBA.
But even after paying an estimated $49.6 million into the revenue sharing program and $8.7 million in luxury taxes, Los Angeles will still clear $100 million in profits. (The exact amount L.A. will have to pay will likely be determined this week, when the audit between the league and union that determines final revenues for the season is completed. Last season, Los Angeles paid $29 million in luxury taxes.)
Chicago was second, earning more than $75 million in profits, and clearing more than $61 million after paying into the revenue sharing program.
The Nets, with their insane payroll last season, are at the other end of the scale, paying an estimated $90 million in luxury taxes -- which ate up their $51 million profit -- and losing an estimated $144 million. Brooklyn's fellow Noo Yawkers, the Knicks, are on line to pay almost $35 million in taxes and almost $27 million in revenue sharing payments, eliminating their profits for a projected $3 million in losses.
But most teams in the league are projected to be profitable this season. And in that atmosphere, James and Anthony are on the clock, and expected to take one for the team.
James has never been the highest paid player on his team in 11 NBA seasons. Think of that. He has been, indisputably, the best player in the league for at least the last, what? Six seasons? Seven? But the Cavaliers got seven seasons out of him, first on his rookie contract, then on an extension he opted out of in 2010, and never had to pay him his true market value. Seriously: What is LeBron James' real worth to a team? How much did Gilbert gain by having James in town all those years? Enough sway to get casinos built in Ohio, or be greenlighted for an online poker stake in Nevada?
Maybe Gilbert would have gotten these things anyway. He's a pretty good businessman and Quicken Loans has made a mint. But it didn't hurt to be the guy who was, and hopes again to be, LeBron's boss.
Phil Jackson is, for the moment, Anthony's boss. And he's made it quite clear he would like Anthony to make good on his stated willingness during All-Star weekend to take less than the max to stay in New York next season. So far, though, the Knicks are holding firm and expressing their intent to give him the max.
Anthony was "concerned," as a source involved in the discussions on Friday said, that the Knicks would not be able to field a competitive team next season. He did not want to go through another pointless year, as he did this past season, when only an 11th hour run gave New York a shot at the East's No. 8 spot.
He was on board with the Knicks' trade of Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Sam Dalembert, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington, even though acquiring Calderon and the $15.1 million left on his contract after 2014-15 cuts into New York's available cap room for next summer. But the Knicks reiterated to Anthony last week that they'd be able to either add a max player next summer or go the Spurs' route and try to add two or three good players to their base. That is vital for Anthony, given that the path to The Finals is much easier in the East than in the West. Still, Miami and Indiana, at least, are in the way.
The Knicks' biggest chips continue to be the additional $30 million or so they can offer Anthony that no one else can, and their location. Anthony's love of the New York scene is legitimate and well-documented. His wife, LaLa Vazquez, and his family are comfortable with the bright lights of the big city. Anthony is also aware that the Knicks gutted their roster to get him from Denver in 2011, and that it's going to take a couple of years to build it back up, especially with a new coach (Derek Fisher) and a new system next season.
But if he stays, he wants every dollar to which he's entitled. This makes him as greedy, say, as the Sterling Family Trust, which had bids of $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion on the table for their teams, yet held out for Steve Ballmer's two billion. As well they should have, by the way. So why should it be different for players?
Kobe Bryant was, and is, excoriated in some circles for demanding a deal commensurate with his standing in the game. As a player, he has not, in the last season and a half, demonstrated elite-level game. But that's not the point. His very existence with the Lakers has blown the value of the franchise sky-high over 18 seasons. And he did take a pay cut in his two-year, $48 million deal. He could have been paid more than $30 million next season. He took less. That's not debatable.
If you could calculate what Bryant's playing career has meant to the Lakers in ways direct (ticket sales, sponsorships, local TV deals) and indirect (if there was no Kobe or Shaquille O'Neal on the roster, would there have been the will to build Staples Center downtown?), it would probably be a lot more than $23.5 million, which is what L.A. is paying him for 2014-15.
Baseball's Seattle Mariners gave second baseman Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million contract last winter. Now, Cano is an outstanding hitter and one of the best second basemen in the game. But no one is putting Cano on baseball's Mount Rushmore, are they? Was he one of the greatest Yankees of all time?
It costs less to live and raise a family in San Antonio than New York, or Los Angeles. So maybe the Spurs' players don't need as much coin on which to survive. Believe me: They had no idea Manu Ginobili, picked 57th overall in 1999, was going to turn into one of the game's all-time greats. They had no idea Tony Parker, picked 28th in 2001, was going to turn into one of the game's best point guards. That good fortune is at the heart of the Spurs' dynasty, for if Duncan didn't believe in his teammates as he did, he wouldn't have been as willing to leave money on the table.
But, if Duncan, or, the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, or anybody else who's done as much for their respective teams as they have, had asked for more, they wouldn't have been wrong.
Why does a rebuilding team like the Kings have such a high payroll?
In its first season under the leadership of new owner Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento went 28-52 and finished fourth in the Pacific Division -- a bad season, but not quite bad enough to get a top three pick in a deep Draft. Sacramento has a lot of work to do fixing the roster, but it will be difficult to do so this summer.
After Rudy Gay chose to opt in for the final year of his deal, at more than $19 million for 2014-15, Sacramento currently has the highest payroll of any non-playoff team from last season -- they have more than $71 million already committed for next season.
That includes the $5.3 million that the Kings have pledged, but not yet formally given, to free-agent guard Darren Collison. He agreed to terms last week on a three-year deal for $16 million. But after using the mid-level exception, the Kings only have the $2.1 million bi-annual exception remaining for free agents.
Sacramento spent a lot of money the last two years. The Kings signed Carl Landry to a four year, $27 million deal last year, and moved quickly, at Ranadive's insistence, at locking up center DeMarcus Cousins to a max extension last September for $62 million. The team's new regime had already inherited Jason Thompson's contract, which has three years and $19 million remaining.
"In a start-up company, which is where we are now, you have to pay to get talent," General Manager Pete D'Alessandro said Sunday. "Working with the ownership side and the business side like we do, it's got to be a team effort. But we're going to get it right. Vivek isn't going to settle for anything less."
The key to the Kings' rebuild is their faith in Cousins and Gay, whom they acquired from Toronto last year in a seven-player trade. Cousins' issues with opponents, former coaches and fans over the years have been well-documented, but last season he raised his game and his comportment, with the occasional misstep. But Cousins has tried to show he can take a joke and be approachable lately, and there's no doubting his game is better than it's ever been.
Ranadive reached out to Cousins during the U.S. men's training camp in Las Vegas last July, and the Kings rebuffed all trade offers. Cousins responded with a monster season, averaging a double double (22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds), and finished fifth in the league in Player Efficiency Rating, just behind Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis. He was fourth in the league in NBA.com/Stats' Player Impact Estimate, behind Durant, James and Love.
And the Kings had the same faith in Gay, despite his subpar numbers in Toronto the first month and a half of last season. In 18 games for the Raptors, he shot just 38 percent from the floor. But after coming to Sacramento, Gay shot 48 percent and still averaged his standard 20 points a game.
The Kings would have gone under the cap this summer if Gay opted out. But they wanted him back, even if it locked them up financially this summer.
"When we took the Rudy deal we did it with the idea that we're going to have a year when we're fat before we hit the next year," D'Alessandro said. "Had Rudy opted out, we would be under the cap, but we wouldn't have Rudy. It's about one contract, which is what it came down to for us. It's a cyclical business, with hills and valleys. We have a hill, and then a cliff."
The Kings made a determined pitch to Gay to opt in, offering him an extension. Gay opted to put those talks off until later in the summer, but he and his representatives were intrigued by the sales pitch.
"Vivek is very impressive," said Gay's agent, Jeff Austin. "Typically, franchise success starts at the top. At some point, you have to bet on the people at the top, and it would be hard to bet against him. Their arena is going to be one of the best arenas in the world, if not the U.S. It's going to be more technologically advanced than anything else."
Gay is the poster child for the analytics crowd, who hates his game, his (in)efficiency, his shot selection and just about everything else he does on the floor. His reputation as a one-dimensional scorer grew while he was in Memphis, and after the Grizzlies' front office was overhauled by owner Robert Pera, Gay's days there were numbered.
But where many see a limited player, the Kings saw a potential lynchpin who is still just 27, a scorer who's also a basketball player, someone who can make plays and pass the ball -- and a natural fit for Cousins, who is one of the NBA's best passing big men.
"Our analytical group here saw it differently," D'Alessandro said. "They saw him playing off of DeMarcus and how those numbers looked. If you look at the numbers historically, when he had low post help in Memphis, he was a good player as well. When they're on the floor together, there's a natural chemistry between those two players. You can't look at a player in a vacuum; you have to look at a player in the context of the team he's on."
Before the trade, the Kings averaged 95.9 possessions per 48 minutes, 18th fastest in the league. After the trade, they averaged 97 possessions per 48, 13th fastest. Their efficiency rose from 101.9 points per 100 possessions before the deal to 103.2 per 100 after.
When Gay came back to Sacramento last month to talk about whether he'd opt in or not, he was met by dozens of fans, all of the Kings' top brass and visited California Governor Jerry Brown. It made an impression. There's a good chance Gay will agree to that extension before the end of the year.
"I think they're on the right track," Austin said. "The question is how long is it going to take them? It's part skill, part luck. It's never easy. But they seem to be very committed and very smart ... Rudy's not looking to be a guy who just jumps around from franchise to franchise. He'd like to settle in and be successful, and he's hopeful Sacramento is a place he can do that."
But the Kings are still going uphill, in a meat grinder of a conference. The deal for Collison likely means the end in Sac for fan favorite Isaiah Thomas.
The Collison deal doesn't preclude matching an offer sheet for Thomas, who is expected to get activity from either Detroit or Boston. But it makes matching a sheet impossible without the Kings going into the luxury tax, which Ranadive does not appear to be willing to do -- and which would make next to no sense for a team just looking to get near .500 in '14-'15.
In signing Collison, the Kings made clear their preference for a point that didn't dominate the ball quite as much as Thomas. But it's a difficult call.
Thomas was ranked 24th in the league in PER, and was fourth-best among point guards, ahead of Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, John Wall, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard. But Thomas is a scorer, who obviously needs the ball in his hands often, and creates for himself as much as anyone else. That doesn't make sense with Gay and Cousins on the floor.
The Kings want to increase their pace even more next season, and while they can't comment on Collison until after the 10th, it's clear they think him superior to Thomas in terms of speed, quickness and ability to move the ball.
The Kings can reduce their team salary, and likely will, by using the stretch provision under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to waive a player and then stretch his salary over twice the remaining years of his contract plus one year. Thus, a team can waive a player with a year left on his deal, and then spread the contract out over three seasons (2x1+1).
So if Sacramento opts to do this with guard Jason Terry, acquired from the Nets last year and not in the team's plans (he never played a minute for the Kings last season, with the team agreeing it would be best if he didn't come to town), it would reduce its cap hit on him from $5.45 million, his salary for 2014-15, to $1.81 million in each of the next three seasons.
But even if they stretch a player, the Kings aren't going to be able to avoid going into the tax if Thomas gets the sheet people around the league anticipate he will. (It is possible that Thomas could still be used in a sign-and-trade deal, and the Kings have long been rumored to badly want Boston's Rajon Rondo.)
In the interim, the Kings' backcourt will feature Collison, 2013 first-rounder Ben McLemore and 2014 first-rounder Nik Stauskas, another shooter that can also handle the ball, as he did last season at Michigan. (Because of that, the Kings are convinced Stauskas and McLemore can play together at times next season. Despite McLemore's poor shooting as a rookie, Sacramento believes he'll ultimately stretch the floor for Cousins and Gay.)
It's part of the long-term strategy of Ranadive and his Silicon Valley partners. Basketball people are reading technology magazines in the office to find where the next big idea will come from. Ranadive's celebrated "NBA 3.0" strategy has the Kings as an international brand down the road. The team is a petri dish at the moment, from accepting Bitcoin for transactions at Sleep Train Arena to outsourcing part of their Draft preparations to fans.
But despite all the deep pockets and big thinkers that are now part of the brain trust, the Kings still need a new building to compete financially. After more than a year fighting local opposition, they'll finally break ground this month on their new downtown arena, scheduled to open in 2017, which will go beyond state of the art technologically.
In keeping with modern buildings, it will have fewer suites, but more seats in the lower bowl. Team president Chris Granger, who came from the league office a year ago, made his bones in how to sell seats and suites while serving as the NBA's Vice President of Team Marketing and Business Operations. The revenue is coming -- in two years.
Teams like Sacramento will be helped further by revenue sharing and an exponential increase in the NBA's national television deals. (When the new building opens, as part of the deal that kept the Kings in town last year instead of moving to Seattle, the Kings will forgo revenue sharing dollars.) Until then, D'Alessandro has to improve the roster with the tools at his disposal, in concert with the business side. With Collison and Stauskas online, the Kings believe they're doing that.
"In this new, modern NBA, where we're saying revenues increase and a really successful league, because of what the Commissioner is doing, you still have to manage it, too," D'Alessandro said. "The backing we're getting from business to say do it, the cuffs are off. We want to see something that's new and exciting, that our fans can be proud of."
A great potential is man's hardest burden. From Hamish Alexander:
As a New Zealander I very much enjoyed watching Steven Adams play this year and prove the doubters wrong after his one underwhelming year at Pitt. This year I again been enjoying the Draft coverage but it seems to me to be the one area of the NBA which is relatively unaffected by the advanced analytics movement. Writers and pundits wax lyrical about intangibles and athleticism (and medical reports!). It's reminiscent of the scene in the movie Moneyball where the old guys sit around the table talking about the player X having a beautiful swing. So again this year so many of the picks were one-and-done players, like Steven Adams, picked on potential rather than the numbers. Why do you think that is and can you give some examples of picks that perhaps go the other-way and show the impact of analytics of drafting?
What we discuss in the media and what teams discuss in their pre-Draft evaluations are very different things, Hamish. Teams definitely use analytics as part of their process before the Draft (illuminated here in a Q & A with Denver's manager of basketball analytics, Tommy Balcetis). But it has to be weighed against the differences between the college and pro games -- the shorter game clock, the longer shot clock, etc. Because there's no sample size with college players playing against professionals, there's much more emphasis on projecting a player's production -- upside and potential.
Another brick in the wall. From Mark Dunstan:
I live in Sydney, Australia -- though I grew up in the US and am an avid Spurs fan. Just wanted to say that I look forward to reading your column each Tuesday morning over a coffee. I really appreciate your insights and love that you often investigate unique stories rather than just following the headlines.
As with most Spurs fans, I'm really hopeful about Kyle Anderson. I thought he was brilliant at UCLA and love his thoughtful, team-oriented approach to the game. The prospect of Boris Diaw, Anderson and Manu whipping passes around the perimeter next season is definitely tantalizing.
I imagine Anderson will probably end up as a 3 or (if he bulks up) a 4 in the NBA, but the pick has caused me to go back and watch some old Magic Johnson highlights. Can a 6-foot-9 point guard be effective in the modern NBA?
Thank you for your kind words, Mark. I expected Anderson to go much higher than he did in the first round, and like you, I expect he'll fit right in in San Antonio -- though I don't think he can play small forward in the pros. He's really not a very good athlete and he's a below average defender. But he's an outstanding passer and he knows how to play, so he can probably become an adequate defender if he doesn't have to chase people around.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and a second crack at this Joan Rivers interview to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
4 -- Years, as of Tuesday, since LeBron James' infamous "Decision" TV show. And, in honor of Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert's equally infamous online response to James, this tidbit is brought to you in Comic Sans!
12 -- Canadian players, at minimum, expected to be on NBA rosters next season, which would make Canada the second-most represented country for NBA players behind the United States. The dozen: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Nik Stauskas (Sacramento), Kelly Olynyk and Joel Anthony (Boston), Samuel Dalembert (New York), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando), Cory Joseph (San Antonio) Tyler Ennis (Phoenix), Robert Sacre and Steve Nash (Lakers). In addition, 2014 second-round pick Dwight Powell is on the Cavs' roster.
13 -- Years, as of last Thursday, since the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis. I have no issue with the good people of Memphis. But I miss Vancouver. What a beautiful, beautiful city.
1) With the advent of Summer Leagues and the like, it's time to plan for Guest Tippers while I'm on vacation for most of August. And so, it's time to hear from you. As you may recall, we pick one random fan to be one of our four Guest Tippers, based on submissions to me at email@example.com. As always, I want real NBA fans. I want to know why you love the game so much, how it first enticed you, whether you still play. (Here is one of the Guest Tip columns from last year, by actor Steve Schirripa.) Fire away!
2) We're not supposed to root for players or teams. I root for Shaun Livingston. And I'm glad he got a good deal to go to Golden State and play for a good team. Very few players have had to come back from what Livingston had to come back from, and at every step in his recovery and return, he's been professional and a plus for the teams he's been on. So, yes, I root for Shaun Livingston, and I'll continue to do so.
3) Good to see Nerlens Noel on the court for the 76ers in the Orlando Summer League this weekend. It's been a long time coming for the big man after missing all of last season rehabbing his torn ACL.
4) Tim Howard. Man, oh man, Tim Howard. You were the goods, sir. That was a performance that deserved victory. And #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave is inspired genius.
5) Hope everyone had a happy, healthy Fourth. What our country can be is still out there, still worth celebrating and stil worth fighting for.
1) Really sorry to hear about the 76ers' Pierre Jackson, who tore his Achilles' in the team's first Orlando Summer League game on Saturday. He had such an odd year last season, not able to come up to the Hornets despite putting up monster numbers in the D League. After he was traded to Philly on Draft night, it certainly looked like he'd stick with the Sixers and have a chance to play this season.
2) Every summer, people freak out when free agents are signed. Wildly overpaid! How could they give him so much money? As if this doesn't happen every summer, when bad teams have to overpay to get good players to play there, and good teams have to overpay to keep their good players, lest those good players be enticed by the bad teams offering them even more money.
3) Sometimes, it's beneficial to be old, so you can call BS on revisionist history. Kobe Bryant knows full well that the Hornets didn't tell him they "had no use for him" when they drafted him 18 years ago last Tuesday, as he Tweeted last week. He knows full well that there was a pre-arranged deal in the works where he'd go to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, as long as he was there when the Hornets picked with the 13th pick in the 1996 Draft. He knows full well that the Nets wanted to take him with the eighth pick, but that his agent, Arn Tellem, threatened to take him to Italy if New Jersey took him, and the Nets backed off. Kobe is a Hall of Fame player, one of the 10 best who have ever played basketball. He doesn't need to create a narrative where Charlotte dissed him and motivated him to greatness. He's already great.
4) Great read on former Laker, Wizard, Grizzly and Bobcat Javaris Crittenton, but tough to believe he got caught up in the life so quickly and completely.
5) You could not pay me enough money to watch one second of a contest whose goal is to stuff food into your face as quickly as possible. There is absolutely nothing appealing about such an endeavor, especially when there are millions of people around the world who go to bed every night hungry.
im entitled to standup for myself/say i felt disrespected as i did thru tweet but point is love unconditionally/as jesus loved me
-- Jeremy Lin (@JLin7), Wednesday, 12:45 p.m., responding to criticism of an earlier Tweet that day in which he quoted the famous scripture from Luke in the Bible about turning the other cheek. Lin did this after the Rockets, during their presentation to free agent Carmelo Anthony, created a video illustration of Anthony in a Rockets uniform wearing number 7 -- which is Lin's number.
"We were naïve about how this business is put out to the press. We are used to operating in businesses where discretion is necessary and part of the fabric of it. The degree to which the media plays an integral role in basketball was a shock to me."
-- Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, decrying how he and fellow co-owner Marc Lasry's negotiations with Jason Kidd became public -- which misses the point entirely. No one would have had an issue with negotiating with Kidd for the Bucks' head coaching job if the job was vacant at the time they spoke with Kidd. And Lasry and Edens know this, which is why Lasry apologized to now former head coach Larry Drew on the phone last week.
"[LeBron] has two of them [titles]. For us players, it becomes about how many you get, which sounds absolutely ridiculous. You're really lucky and fortunate to win one, but now it's become so jaded, it's like, 'OK you only won one, you only won two, you should win five or six,' which is absolutely ridiculous. But nonetheless, that's the challenge that we deal with."
-- Kobe Bryant, to a reporter while at the World Cup, on the expectations on elite athletes to win titles.
"My last couple of years with the Detroit Pistons has not panned out to my expectations. The situation got worst by the year. I don't blame the fans for their frustration in me and my team. But don't give up on me just yet. I'm now a free agent. I can sit here today and look forward towards a brighter future, a next step. This future is determined by the hard work I'm committed to deliver today. Believe in me."
-- Free agent Charlie Villaneuva, in a blog post comments on his future.
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