Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ant's Early Offseason Review

TJ Ford will be leading a much improved Bucks team

By Anthony Peretore

Despite the fact that free agents still can’t officially sign and we’re not even sure when that date will be, it still seems necessary to delve into the potential signings and see who has fared the best, the worst, and what to expect in the coming weeks.

Offseason Winners...

Milwaukee Bucks

As the rosters appear to us today, there’s no arguing that GM Terry Harris has done the most to improve his basketball team this summer. Picture this: your best player and the face of your team is deciding between A) Milwaukee—superstar status and more money or, B) Cleveland—playing at home alongside LeBron James, only the most exciting young player in the league. That’s like choosing between your girlfriend of four years and your old high school sweetheart who just got a new boob job—tough choice, to say the least. But after the number 1 pick fell into his lap, Harris knew if he added one more piece to the team that Redd would have to lean towards staying in Milwaukee. He was right--the promise of a superior small forward to play alongside (eventually Bobby Simmons), turned out to be a commitment that will keep Redd in Milwaukee for at least six more years. With Michael returning (along with TJ Ford), Simmons arriving, the re-signing of Dan Gadzuric, and Terry Stotts taking over the reigns, the Bucks appear to be playoff bound in 05-06.

New Jersey Nets

After Kenyon Martin left for Denver last summer, the Nets have been reluctant in finding his replacement. Brian Scalabrine came up a bit short, as did Clifford Robinson, Awvee Storey, Jabari Smith, and Kaniel Dickens. So the Thorn/Stefanski duo decided to dig in this offseason and sure up the 4 spot once and for all. After they passed on Hakim Warrick at 15 and let Stromile Swift walk to Houston, I wondered how much they were going to spend on a remaining free agent. Amazingly, the team announced late last week that they had reached an agreement to sign Shareef Abdur-Rahim for the Mid-Level Exception. How is this possible? How can the Celtics lose two of their best players of the past 20 years to death yet the Nets can get Vince Carter and Shareef Abdur-Rahim for Eric Williams, a guy with one kidney, $4-5 million, and a jockstrap? Nevertheless, the Nets are going to cruise to the Atlantic title, nab the 3 seed, and have as good a chance as any to head to the Finals.

Stro should make Yao tougher

Houston Rockets

I almost put Houston ahead of New Jersey, but SAR is a hair better for New Jersey than Swift is for the Rockets. Don’t get me wrong, Stro is exactly what this team needs—an athletic 4 who can block shots, throw down dunks, and play in the half court or on the break. But the problem is, he just isn’t polished enough. I remember stretches of games last season where Swift would appear unstoppable on both ends of the floor, but at the same time, how come he could never throw together a monster game? I’m not even sure it’s possible, but given his age (25) and tremendous athleticism, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’ll help the Rockets make it to at least the second round this year. If they can manage to sign a veteran point guard and Yao Ming discovers he does in fact have testicles, Houston could compete with San Antonio for the West.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure they lost out on Michael Redd, but pulling Larry Hughes out of nowhere has to merit some praise. It seems like everyone is ripping this deal, and up until a few days ago, so was I. But the thing is, I feel that no matter who is playing alongside LeBron, that player will undoubtedly recognize the power that is James, and have no qualms about playing second fiddle. If Hughes had no problems in Washington as Gilbert Arenas’ #2 (even during his 8-49 games), we certainly can’t expect any difficulties in Cleveland. Playing with James, a much more efficient and exciting scorer who will also dish the ball (7.2 APG), Hughes should be much happier and who knows, maybe even put up better numbers. This combination of athleticism alone should help the Cavs win at least 5 more games and put them in contention to win the Central. In addition, Cleveland also re-signed a guy who averaged a measly 16.9 PPG and 8.6 RPG last season, yet no one’s really talking about it. The return of Big Z along with the seemingly imminent deal for Marko Jaric could make the Cavs a very scary ball club.

Indiana Pacers

I put Indiana here based upon one thing: Larry Bird’s patience. He could have easily dealt Ron Artest last February and acquired a player who was able to contribute to their playoff run. But Bird was smart enough to realize that Artest’s stock was at an ultimate low and that dealing his second best player away for a slightly better chance at beating Detroit and Miami just wasn’t worth it. So heading into 05-06, not only does the team bring back Ronnie, but they also added much needed depth in SF Danny Granger and recently acquired Euro star PG Sarunas Jasikevicius. With Reggie Miller retiring and Jamaal Tinsley injured more often than Kerry Wood and Mark Prior combined, the Pacers got just what they needed in these two. I fully expect the Pacers to win the Central and challenge Detroit, Miami, and New Jersey for the East crown.

Offseason Losers...

No Larry isn't a loser, but the Pistons will be

Detroit Pistons

We may never get all the details, but letting Larry Brown walk to New York after leading the Pistons to the Finals two years in a row is absurd. Who knows, maybe Brown wanted out and Dumars simply granted his request. Or maybe the front office wanted Brown out after his slue of hip problems and rumors that he wanted out at the end of the year. The fact of the matter is, a team that came out of nowhere to capture the Title two years ago and relentlessly made it back to the Finals this past season, is now without their brain. On paper the Pistons appear to be an average team, but under the tutelage of Brown they managed to come together to form a nearly unstoppable group. Now they turn to Flip Saunders, who has had one successful coaching season and nowhere near the savvy and experience of Brown. Should be an interesting year in Mo-Town, especially after Flip has his first beef with ‘Sheed.

Boston Celtics

I realize the offseason isn’t even half over yet, but I just have a bad feeling the Celtics are headed for disaster. Everyone always mentions the abundance of youth Danny Ainge is stockpiling, but without veteran leadership to guide them, honestly where is this team going? Paul Pierce is nowhere near the leader Boston needs to make a serious run at the East. Antoine Walker could be but he’s apparently got one foot out the door in a sign and trade. The rest of the “vets” include Raef LaFrentz (who has absolutely no say in the locker room) and Mark Blount (who Ainge is trying to deal for a pack of tube socks). Everyone else on the roster has either 2 years or less of professional experience and without any elders to help guide them to the next level, things could turn ugly in Beantown. For their sake, Ainge must decide in the coming weeks whether or not this team is gearing for the future or seeks to simply remain in the playoff hunt each year. Thus the ultimate question remains, should they move Pierce?

Washington Wizards

What did Abe Polin and Ernie Grunfeld offer Larry Hughes, like 5 years $14? Analysts called Hughes re-signing a shoo-in at the end of the year and then all of a sudden he’s trying on a Cavs uniform? It comes down to one thing and one thing only, Polin being a cheapskate. The Wizards had the money to re-sign Hughes, but once they lost him it seemed like a mad scramble to put other pieces together. Caron Butler in for Kwame Brown, okay. But then Antonio Daniels for the MLE when you already have one of the most exciting young PGs in the league in Arenas? It makes no sense to me especially when their frontcourt is about as deep as Paris Hilton, and that they’ll probably force Antawn Jamison to play the 4, when he’s much better at the 3. For a team that made the playoffs for the first time since the name change, they did a pretty lousy job assuring a return trip in 2006.

Caron or Larry? Umm, I'll take Larry

Seattle Supersonics

This doesn’t just refer to this summer, but more so the course of the last year. By low-balling Nate McMillan all season long, the Sonics just lost a coach that turned a projected 5-77 team into a serious contender in the West this past year. To make matters even worse, the team was able to retain Ray Allen, assumed that would bring back Nate, and then watched painfully as he packed his bags for Portland. (Unfortunately for Nate, half of his new players care more about their bags than their game, but that’s a whole other story). In addition to losing McMillan, Seattle also lost Daniels to Washington and Jerome James to New York, and there is also talk that Vladimir Radmanovic plans on skipping town as well. You would think that for a team that rose from the ashes last season, the front office would do a better job of showing their appreciation. Oh well, back to the Ray Allen trade demands.

Remaining Offseason Predictions...

--Larry Brown will get the Knicks to the second round of the playoffs. I’m not doubting this guy anymore. If he could take that Detroit team to the Finals and beat the Lakers and damn near take out the Spurs, he can get the Knicks to Round 2.

Curry won't be yelling so much in the ATL

--Eddy Curry will leave Chicago for Atlanta. That’s right, the Hawks will establish one of the most exciting young frontcourts in the entire league with Curry, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith. They still won’t win more than 30 games though.

--The Boston Celtics will trade Paul Pierce. I’m not sure where “The Truth” will be heading, but something tells me Radmanovic will be wearing a new green and white next season. If this happens, expect Walker to stay and the Celtics new lineup to look like: Delonte West, Ricky Davis, Radmanovic, Walker, LaFrentz.

--Michael Finley will wind up back with his original team in Phoenix. There’s a reason the Suns made that Q Richardson deal…Finley will most certainly be a casualty of the Allan Houston exception and take his walking papers back to the team that originally drafted him. With Finley replacing Q and Kurt Thomas now on board to bolster their bench, expect the Suns to be even stronger in ‘06.

--Bill Simmons will take over for Chad Ford as ESPN’s lead NBA analyst. This is a shot in the dark and more of my hope than expectancy, but who would be better suited to take on that role than The Sports Guy? Realistically, Mark Stein will probably take the job with Chris Broussard taking on a bigger role to fill Ford’s void. Very disappointing…

Remaining Offseason Questions...

Will Watson be leading Phil's charge?

--What are the Lakers doing? When Phil Jackson agreed to return to the bench, I assumed he wanted to start contending right away. Then on Draft day they went with Andrew Bynum at 10, when guys like Warrick, Granger, and Gerald Green were still around. Despite that odd decision, the team did do a nice job in acquiring Kwame Brown from the Wizards for Caron Butler. This not only bolsters the LA frontcourt but also allows Lamar Odom to slide back to the 3, a position he’s much more comfortable playing. But what’s the deal on waiting for a point guard to pop up? Do they honestly feel good about letting a Brevin Knight or Earl Watson run the team next season? Why didn’t they just sign Jasikevicius? I have a feeling Phil has something up his sleeve…

--Can the Pacers overcome the inevitable Artest distractions and take the East? Without a doubt they can. Rick Carlisle and Larry Bird are two of the best and will have no problem helping their players get through the adversity and back to glory. Indiana showed a lot of heart in the 04-05 Playoffs and in bringing back Artest along with the additions of Granger and Saras it makes them the team to beat in ‘06.

--Who are the best free agents left that no one is talking about? In no particular order: Juan Dixon, Earl Watson, and Reggie Evans. Each could be valuable assets to either a young team (Charlotte, New Orleans, Atlanta) or a team on the brink of contending (Washington, Boston, Golden State). Seattle was talking to Dixon earlier this week, Watson should end up in LA and Evans will probably stay put in Seattle.

--What has been the best free agent signing that no one has talked about? I love the deal the Suns made in getting Raja Bell to backup Nash. With Stevie running the offensive show but playing relatively no defense, they need a guy like Bell to come in and shut down opposing 1s and 2s. Also with Bell off the bench, the team no longer has to rely on Barbosa to run the team once Nash goes down with his annual back injury.

--And finally, just for fun…

Who else would go #1?

Ant’s Top 10 Fantasy Picks for 2005-06

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Garnett
3. Kobe Bryant
4. Tim Duncan
5. Allen Iverson
6. Tracy McGrady
7. Amare Stoudemire
8. Dirk Nowitzki
9. Dwyane Wade
10. Shaquille O’Neal

Apologies to Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, and Andrei Kirilenko


At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donyell Marshall is another excellent addition for the Cavs. It addresses the 3 point shooting issue they 'missed' when they got Hughes instead of Redd.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger lang the champ said...

You don't have to apologize for leaving off Gilbert Arenas. He's a bum

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

My fault on leaving Donyell off...I think that will be a decent addition for them, but his lack of low post defense will eventually hurt them. Especially considered Ilgauskas is perhaps the slowest player since Arvydas Sabonis. Thanks for the comments

At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ai has not gone that high in drafts in a long time. nor will this year be his year. i will laugh the day i see ai go above all those guys maybe except for wade.

At 1:21 AM, Anonymous DX said...

Few Questions/Comments--

1. I agree that the Bucks have improved, but how can anyone expect them to be Playoff bound given that they're the worst team in their own DIVISION?

2. The Pistons came out of nowhere last year to win the title? Really? They made the Eastern Semis 2 years prior, the Eastern Finals the year after, and then were most people's pick to win the East after the Rasheed trade. I don't think LB gets credit for the 'Sheed deal-- Dumars does. And then yes, they surprised a lot of people by beating the Lakers, but let's be serious-- that was NOT the same Lakers team that won 3 straight championships, and the Pistons were the perfect recipe for disaster for LA. And then last year, Pistons should have won 60+ games-- they didn't and largely because LB half-assed his way through the season. And though they did nearly march all the way to another title, let's be serious-- it wasn't exactly an impressive run. They struggled against a depleted Indiana, barely escaped Miami thanks to debilitating injuries to their two stars, and then played an inconsistent series in the Finals against San Antonio which eventually caught up to them. Dumars was smart to get rid of Brown now rather than have to sweat him stepping down mid-season because he got bored again. The Pistons are in line to challenge for titles for the next 3 years at least-- why risk it all by fucking around with Brown (who may be a great strategist, but was exactly loved by the players)when you can still bring in a good coach that won't bring about any distractions. And remember, coaches DON'T win championships in the NBA-- players do. Auerbach didn't win all those titles-- Russell did. Riley wasn't the mastermind behind the Lakers' dynasty in the 80's-- Magic, Kareem, and Worthy were. Phil Jackson didn't coach the Bulls to 6 rings-- Michael Jordan carried them to the top every time. But you CAN coach teams into the Playoffs and that's what Brown will do with the Knicks (if not this year, then next). Anyways, I'd be shocked if the Pistons are any worse next year without Brown. That said, I think they could be just as good, but NOT go as far in the Playoffs given how tough the top of the East is looking. And if that happens, you as well as everyone will else will be saying it's because they don't have Larry Brown. Remember I said this.

3.I highly disagree about the Wiz letting go of Hughes being stupid-- I think it was a smart move on their part. You really believe that combo of Arenas, Hughes, and Jamison was going to win championships? Hughes had a huge year this past season-- a contract year mind you. Arenas is a great player, but he's not a great point guard let's be serious. With Daniels, they can play him off the ball more and also allow him to cheat a lot on defense and get a ton of steals. I promise you Arenas leads the league in steals next year since he'll be assuming Hughes' role on defense. I do agree the Wiz were stupid not to target a big man-- their frontline is just too thin to go up against either Detroit, Indy, or Miami and that'll keep them from being any better next season. But in the long run, they saved money by not maxing out Hughes, so they'll have more flexibility in the future.

4. I don't know about Finley to Phoenix-- though I'd love to see it, other teams will have more money to offer.

5. You said Raja Bell is backing up Nash-- but as of right now he's projected to start for Phoenix. I do agree it's a great move. They need a gritty, defensive-minded player more than a scorer if they want to challenge the Spurs next season.

6. And finally, you had Allen Iverson way too high. He's always an injury liability and is a lock to miss 10+ games a year.

At 1:57 AM, Blogger Rocke said...

Wait, is Chad Ford leaving

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

Hey DX, great post I'm glad you got so much out of the article. Now for my rebutal:

1. Remember that the Atlantic absolutely blows and could only produce 1 playoff team next year. If only the Heat and Wiz make it from the SE (almost a guarantee), that leaves 5 slots available from the Central--not too far-fetched at all.

2. You make an excellent point about the Pistons not coming out of nowhere in 2003 as I mentioned, but let's be serious, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before their championship or not, beating the Lakers was a shock to the entire world. That to me is the definition of coming out of nowhere. Shit the Celtics made the ECF what, 5 years ago? How much did that mean? Remember that before the Pistons won the Title, there was this overwhelming consensus that the West would never be beaten. I credit Larry Brown's experience and superior game plans in that series to the Pistons "coming out of nowhere" to win that championship. Sure the Lakers were depleted after their war with the Spurs, but try and remember back, NO ONE had the Pistons winning that series.

I agree with your comment that coaches don't win championships, players do--to a certain degree. I think in professional sports today, a coaches biggest challenge is to calm egos to enable a team to come together as a whole. Brown does it, as does Popovich and Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and even Red Auerbach before them. They preach the team before the player and that may seem like a no-brainer at the professional level, but look at how many guys still don't get it. A coach doesn't have to be best friends with his group, just respected 100%. Brown definately was and that's why he has a ring and almost two. And don't give me that crap about how the Pistons were unimpressive in their run this past year. The Spurs were just as inconsistent in that series as Detroit was. Again, almost no one had Detroit winning and yet their they were with a 7 point lead in the 3rd quarter of Game 7.

3. Finley would have to be more interested in winning a championship than making more money, right? He seems to be the type of guy who would go to the Suns for less money for perhaps his best chance at a Title. Assuming that's the case then...

4. Raja Bell will not be starting. Even if they don't get Finley I don't think he will start. A lineup of Nash, Johnson, Marion, Amare, K. Thomas would be more beneficial to that team.

5. Look at Iverson's numbers. Compare them to anyone in the league last year. That list is where I would take those guys, not a reflection of an actually draft. Even if AI plays 72-75 games, his 30 points, 8 dimes and 2.5 steals make him a top 6 guy. Amare fills 2.5 categories, should he be ahead of him? How about T-Mac, his numbers dont come close to AI. Plus Iverson plays 2 positions in every league.

Thanks a lot for the comments DX--I wish more people had this much to say. I'm always up for a solid debate, even if it's at 9 in the morning. Peace

PS-Yes Ford is leaving ESPN to become a professor at BYU-Hawaii. Why, I don't know

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with DX on the Larry Brown subject. Not only did they NOT come out of nowhere 2 years ago, but if LB is such an Xs and Os genius then why did he "coach" the US sqaud to a bronze last summer?

Rick Carligle (sp?) had the Pistons playing excellent ball the year before LB showed up - and had Rick been able to add 'Sheed to the team he might have had them in the Finals too.

Just because nobody had the Pistons beating the Lakers means nothing. Everybody got it wrong, so what! The Lakers completely SUCKED in those finals and it's more accurate to say the Lakers GAVE them the title than to say that LB coached them to it. The Lakers finally collapsed (which was inevidable) in the finals - lucky Pistons...

When the US olympic squad was getting beat by Puerto Rico LB had DWade, Mello and even Lebron to some degree, wasting away on the bench. That team played like sh1t and I think LB should be getting far more flack for that than he did - it's like everybody forgot about this little embarrassment.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

First of all, it's Rick Carlisle, second of all, read what I wrote. I agree the Pistons did not come out of nowhere froma literal sense after making it to the ECF the year before their title. My point was that the West was seen as highly superior at that point, largely in part the the Lakers reign at the top of the league. The Pistons came into that series and shocked the world and if they didn't win that series they'd be thought of in the same light as the Nets. By winning it all they came out of nowhere to win the title. No one expected them to win and in that sense, a great deal of credit has to go to Brown. If you think LA just handed the championship to the Pistons you're crazy. Brown's game plan against Shaq in that series was brilliant. He completely frustrated Shaq and wore him down to exhaustion. Brown out coached Jackson in that series and in my eyes outcoached Popovich this June. The Pistons had no right winning three games in that series especially seeing that the Spurs had like 8 or 9 days off.

Addressing your other point: blaming Brown for the Team USA debacle, well that's just crazy. I actually wrote a piece on this last week that addressed my stance. I blame first and foremost the players that declined the offer to play. Second of all I blame the committee for selecting a non-cohesive group. Next I blame the players for simply showing up and expecting to win. But how can you blame a coaching staff that contains the last two NBA champion coaches (Brown and Pop) and the NCAA championship coach (Roy Williams)??? The answer: you can't.

Thanks for the comments

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, "carlisle"... sorry I didn't look it up first.

We'll have to agree to disagree about the Lakers series. Nothing more to say on that.

But in one paragraph you give LB all (or most) of the credit when his team beats LA, and takes the Spurs to 7 (which was more impressive than beating THAT LA team IMO) - but in the next he gets NO blame for his team choking in the olympics! How can you have it both ways?! Sure, the olympic team wasn't the best USA could offer - but it should have easily come away with the gold with the team they had.

Your argument that the 3 olympic coaches are such icons that they can't be blamed for the loss is ludicrous. They get the glory when they win - so they should get the blame when they lose.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

That would be the correct mentality, you're right. But when the coaches have no say in who participates, they cannot take the bulk of the blame for the results. I don't think any coach could have won with that group, because as a whole they were far too young. I do not think it was possible for those guys to win gold, so there is our primary disagreement. Excellent debate, keep on writing in.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think that the US squad was so bad that nobody could get them to win? Here's the team:

PG: S Marbury, D Wade
SG: A Iverson, Lebron
SF: Mello, R Jefferson, L odom
PF: E Okafor, S Marion, Boozer
C: T Duncan, A Stoudemire

Now I know you mentioned how young they are - and I agree. I wouldn't have assembled this group for international play either - but that's who they had.

So my major beef is with LB not giving the young guys a chance to fail. He nailed Amare, Wade, Okafor and Mello to the bench and didn't play Lebron enough either. Sure they're young and might not have done the job - but they were the team he was given and as such he should have played 'em. Instead of watching Marbury/Jefferson launch brick after brick he should have let some of the rooks into the game.

And I think there are a lot more NBA coaches out there who don't have much of a say in their rosters - not all, but a couple. I'll give you that much though - LB was thrown a team that USA Basketball should have known wouldn't be successful in international play.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh - and those young bench warmers would probably have been a lot more coachable than Marbury and company, and would have run the plays LB wanted and listened to him more. The Vets that he ended up playing had egos and as such probably didn't respond to LB the way the rooks would have.

Hat's off to AI though - he had himself an excellent olympics.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

I read multiple articles telling of how a lot of the youngsters had bad attitudes concerning Brown not giving them the bulk of the minutes. This was especially true for Carmelo and was seen countless times pouting on the bench. You have to remember that as good as these kids are, they are still very inexperienced at the professional level. I'm sure Brown wasn't alone in keeping the veterans in for the majority of the game because if Pop disagreed then the youngsters would have def gotten more run. Wade played a lot and LeBron as the tournament progressed, just Melo and Okafor were heavily deprived. I dunno, I just don't think using Team USA as an example is very fair to Coach Brown. Remember, George Karl failed even worse with far better talent.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger Paul Benedict said...

Briefly allow me to just say this about Brown-- I don't know that it was necessarily Brown's fault that Team USA didn't take the Gold, but there's no denying that he wasn't the right coach for the job. Brown's expertise in coaching is in the defense he employs and the way he manages a game-- he didn't utilize his athletes enough and get the team in the open court as much as they should have been. Could anyone have stopped a team featuring Amare, Iverson, Marion, Odom, LeBron, etc in a full court game? Brown was too concerned with how to defend other teams and therefore Team USA often fell behind and was forced to play at the tempo of their opponents. I sincerely hope that the committee give Mike D'Antoni strong consideration as their next head coach-- he's got tons of experience coaching overseas and his style suits our strengths tremendously.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

The one thing you forgot is that Euros can play the open court game just as well as we can, if not better. Also, those teams had a bunch of experience playing together and Team USA practically none. Maybe Brown wasn't the best coach for the job, but honestly who would you have chosen at that time over him and Pop? D'Antoni? He hadn't done shit up to that point. The problem was the players and that they weren't a strong defensive group. Dream Team 1 didn't have to play D because they were incredible and not too egotistical to pass up the opportunity to play for their country. You both are failing to recognize the amount of stars that turned down the offer. I agree Brown wasn't the best coach but there are many other reasons for the team's failure I'd put ahead of the coaching staff.

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to have forgotten about all the Carmello stories from those olympics - thanks for reminding me. I guess even the rooks had serious egos to contend with.

I must admit that you've got me blaming LB a lot ~less~ for that bronze. He still deserves some blame - but maybe not quite as much as I'm dumping on him.



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