The Bulls last dance with Luol Deng

When the Bulls drafted Luol Deng, I remember the phrase "you can cross off SF from your list of needs for the next decade" being said. Nine years later and a year left on his deal, that has largely been true. That said, Chicago should be looking to move on from Luol Deng rather than extend him.

Luol's a good player. He's a glue player. A system player. He defends. Rebounds. Hustles. Does the little things. If you ever wondered whether coaches love Luol Deng or not, wonder no more at the fact the coaches voted him into the all-star game twice.

They probably don't love him enough to trade much for him, not at his salary, and the Bulls need Luol this season if they want to compete for the NBA title. My opinion often vacillates on Deng. I don't think he's worth his salary, but I don't see how the Bulls get better trading him or letting him walk.

Losing Deng won't be addition by subtraction. He's a good player. He's a good person as well. The Bulls relationship with Deng would be a hell of a lot more contentious if he wasn't given the situation a few years back with his leg.

There have been times he wanted to leave and times the Bulls wanted him gone, but never has either situation gotten bad enough for the Bulls to move him for nothing, and no one has ever offered much, including this summer.

I was discussing Deng on my last podcast and a listener wrote me to say the thing about Deng is that you never really miss him when he's out. I thought it was a great point that I hadn't quite considered in that light. We've seen Deng have a number of significant injuries in his career, and I don't know that the team has ever suffered for it.

Deng's injury may have been the key to beating the Brooklyn Nets last season as he was absolutely abysmal in that series.

In the end, the Bulls aren't going to create a great team with Deng as a central piece of it. Not unless his salary gets pushed down to the sevenish million per year role player range, and honestly, I'm not sure I want Deng back at virtually any price.

The thing is we all recognize the Bulls need at least one more dynamic offensive player on the perimeter. Nate Robinson showed us that player doesn't necessarily need to be a star, just someone who can create offense. Jimmy Butler probably isn't going to be that player at SG, Deng definitely isn't that player at SF.

If you keep both long term, then you've locked yourself into the same pedestrian offense that you've had for years. Though it's only been one year with Butler, I think the Bulls have to choose between the two. I choose Butler for the next four seasons following this one. He's younger, more athletic, more disruptive defensively, and generates more free throws.

Of the two, Butler strikes me as the more dynamic threat on both ends of the floor.

Chicago will have to hope they've found a winner in Tony Snell. If they can develop him into a player who can reliably knock down threes and play defense then the team looks better with Rose, Snell, Butler than Rose, Butler, Deng. The Bulls don't need more glue nearly as much as they need more shooting.

Snell's unlikely to be ready for that role this season which is why the Bulls can't afford to trade Deng for peanuts now, not if they want to win a title this season. Maybe Snell won't be ready next year either, but the Bulls don't need him to be a traditional starting caliber player, they just need him to perform his exact niche skills well enough.

Even if Snell doesn't pan out, and there's a good chance he won't, the Bulls will have an easier time finding a player with some complementary strength to stick at SG. Heck, bring back Marco Belinelli to play next to Derrick Rose and see what he can do with the spacing provided by Derrick Rose.

In the end, the reason Deng shouldn't be back next season is that he doesn't impact wins enough for the money he'll command. The Bulls paid the luxury tax last season and will pay again this season. They'll almost certainly look to skip a couple years of it in order to avoid the repeater tax, and when looking to trim some salary removing the guy who doesn't impact wins and is paid 14 million looks like the thing to do.

The Bulls might have two such players in Deng and Boozer, but of the two, believe it or not, Boozer is the more difficult one to replace. I think Chicago can throw in a two million dollar guard with some offensive skills at SG, slide Deng to SF, and not really lose much. They'll have a tougher time finding a PF/C with a pulse that can slide in for Boozer due to the lack of big men out available [though poor man's Boozer, Drew Gooden, is still looking for work].

In the end, this season is the likely the last shot for this core group of players. Maybe something changes this season, maybe the Bulls win a title or Butler proves to be a fluke, but my expectation is this is our last season with Luol manning the SF spot.

Filed under: Players

Tags: chicago bulls, Luol Deng, nba


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    I too really struggle with the Deng situation. I like him, but if he's looking for $13-14M...ehhhhhh.

    I do take issues with a few things. One, I personally wouldn't feel better about Rose/Butler/Snell over Rose/Butler/Deng unless Snell is really, really good or the Bulls get really lucky with a cheap offensive option on the wing again a la Nate. Or maybe the Bulls get a nice player in return for Deng. But in terms of winning championships over the next few years, I just can't think the team w/o Deng has a better chance.

    Second, I don't think Boozer would be tougher to replace at all. Sure his offense and rebounding is nice at times, but the team has been consistently worse with him on the court the last few years and he's only getting older. Taj and Mirotic (hopefully) should be able to hold down the 4 just fine unless Bulls are able to somehow snag Love or LMA (doubtful).

  • In reply to Jay Patt:

    I think finding big men who can do anything is tougher than finding a wing who can do something.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    While I agree with your premise, I think that you discount how abhorrently attrocious the BozoHole is at everything and anything involving defense and effort. That factor flips the equation for me in the Deng vs BozoHole debate.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    You are right to a degree, but I think what Jay is saying is a very good point - given the fact that Taj is clearly a ++ player for the Bulls vs Booz when he's on the court and the fact that we have options on another big man (despite being unproven) - it's a much less compelling argument favoring Booz in this particular case. It'd be different if it negatively impacted our starting 5 right off the bat, but statistics show the offense is actually ++ in multiple areas if not all when Taj is in vs Booz. So that puts much less pressure on finding a backup or 3rd string backup vs a SF who must now start in place of Deng. Maybe you can bring in another guard and move JB...maybe.

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    It's like you just watched highlights of the Nets series on repeat for the past 2 months and decided that was Deng & Boozer's entire career.

  • In reply to Bobby Zangrilli:

    Deng shot 32% from the 3point line and 42% from the field for the season last year. He's been missing numerous times in his career for extended periods, and I've never felt the team was really hurt.

    He does a lot of things okay, but he does nothing great, I just think you throw any specialist in his place, and the team doesn't really suffer that much.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I like Deng a lot and think he has a lot of potential but you are absolutely right. Part of that is his fault and part of that is the coaches' fault - all of them - and how they've used him. I've always believe Deng could've been one of the most unsuspecting mismatches in the NBA and an unknowing post threat for who ever is checking him...which was proven through a three game stretch this past season when so many people were hurt Thibs seemed to run an experiment and had Deng posting whoever was on him - and Deng was killing them each game. And ya know maybe Deng doesn't assert himself that way because of the "offense" and they wouldn't let him. In either case it only causes him to be more expendable. And this is yet another reason why coaches like Phil Jackson are amazing - yeah he may have had super stars but what he got out of role players and how he used them was pure chess. Sometimes you play your game and sometimes you play your opponent. Any teams with a bigger, slower player guarding Deng or vice Vera would have paid if one of the other elite NBA coaches were coaching.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Did you forget rose was out all season? Deng has a higher shooting percentage when rose is on the floor, which he will be this year.

  • In reply to Jake21:

    Deng shot a career low 41% the season before with Rose.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    That's because all of them were complacent that year and didn't really know how to play with him. It was mostly standing around watching. They've built up confidence in knowing who they are without him now. Plus, they know that they have to take care of him and not put the burden on him. It'll be a much different story.

  • The Bulls situation with Deng becoming a free agent next season isn't good. Whoever makes the decision to keep players or let them go for the Bulls should have a big choice to make as far as resigning Deng orletting him walk or even trading him by the trade deadline. Deng is not worth a big contract extension like Doug said but at the same time, the Bulls shouldn't let him go for nothing. I see Deng being a very valuable asset to teams like Utah, Toronto, or even Sacramento. What the Bulls would get back in return from either of those teamswould be the big question. But Deng sshouldn't be back with the Bulls after this upcoming season cause there's time for change with this group of players after this year and Deng would be a good start for that change. I look forward to reading what the Deng loyalist will have to say about the Bulls needing to move on from their guy Luol Deng.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I just think you can't trade Deng for scraps. You're better off trying to win with Deng this year than getting a late draft pick for him.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I'm not sure it's a good idea, but you could in theory trade Deng to Boston for Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. Both have 3 year deals (JG is a player option in year 3), so Boston may like to clear salaries sooner. Then, the Bulls have Green to play 3/4 this year and can amnesty Boozer next year. Lee would give you a rotation 2 until Snell is ready or if he never is. And, you'd still be below the tax even after a full MLE to Mirotic.

  • "Snell's unlikely to be ready for that role this season which is why the Bulls can't afford to trade Deng for peanuts now, not if they want to win a title this season. Maybe Snell won't be ready next year either, but the Bulls don't need him to be a traditional starting caliber player, they just need him to perform his exact niche skills well enough. "

    That paragraph pretty much sums up the schizophrenic nature of this argument. If the bulls are competing for a championship, then they absolutely should try and resign Deng. It's only if they aren't a championship caliber team that they should think about letting him go. If you don't think the bulls are championship caliber, then by all means, cut the string. But last time I checked, the bulls had the best record against the Heat in the league since the big 3.

    On the other hand, don't make the BG mistake of holding on to a guy too long just to try and make the playoffs one more time. If Deng is really dragging them down, let him go and try and get a pick in next year's draft for him.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    The idea that you just resign Deng ignores the idea of how you structure your team financially though.

    Keeping Deng this year is okay because you've already agreed to pay a certain amount, but next year with repeater tax it's not as plausible to keep him without cutting someone else more valuable.

  • With a sample size big enough for it to be meaningful with his long career,despite good box-score stats, Boozer's teams have been better with him off the court than on. including his peak years with Utah. He is 31, declining rapidly. His type of player (non-athletic scoring big without 3-pt range, doesn't defend) has aged very poorly historically so the worst is yet to come. He also does not match up well against Miami.

    Deng is 28 and still in his prime , and the Bulls have over his career played much better with him on the court, so unlike Boozer is much better than his box score stats. If Butler "replaces" Deng, who replaces Butler? He was 4th on the team in minutes played, and it is a reach to assume Snell can do that. I don't see any solid replacement wings that are available cheap. Even if he does pan out, having 3 wings that can defend will really help against Miami so you have someone fresh to throw out there on d, or gives you the option of going small.

    Replacing Boozer's below-average production should be easy. In house, Gibson can take a bigger role and Mirotic can step in. There are a number decent enough 4s who signed for cheap, including some that are are unsigned and will have to take the minimum.

    I can't see how it can be rationally argued that keeping Boozer (at $15 a year!) and letting Deng go is the move to make.

  • In reply to aaaa:

    Yep exactly most of what I was saying way above. Nice.

  • As I've previously commented, this is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation and I'll state up front that there is no great solution here. So many people here have written "trade Deng" but Bulls can't get much in return for Deng in a trade, not by himself, so any trade makes the team worse. What "trade Deng" really means is "trade Deng to a sucker who overrates him and will give us really good assets for him" which just isn't going to happen.

    Therefore the choices are to give up on a championship this year by parting ways with Deng now or trading him mid-season, or go for a title that they probably won't get, and Deng "leaves for nothing" as the negative nancy types (who fancy themselves "realists") like to whine.

    Bulls have to go for a championship this year, despite having only a remote chance, and that means keeping Deng. After this year, they definitely need to let him walk and pursue a more dynamic scoring SF. I'm with Doug as far as not really wanting Deng back at any price. Deng's defense is overrated -- and I've been as guilty of it as anyone. Much like Kirk Hinrich, another overrated defender, Deng hustles and puts in effort on defense, which separates him from half the NBA, but he isn't athletic enough to be a disruptive defender. His length will be missed as active 6'8" perimeter defenders are hard to find, but if the Bulls can just find a dynamic scoring SF who is willing to be coached, I can't believe they'll really lose much defensively.

    Trying for a championship they probably won't win and letting Deng walk for nothing after this year is the best plan for the Bulls. Like I wrote, there is no great solution here unless there's a sucker out there.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Agree with everything you said except the Hinrich comment. He's not an overrated defender by any means. I'd bet money his - score for opponents is up there. He clearly gave Williams a handful before he got hurt last playoffs and consistently gives Wade fits. Look out this season for him to be used as a specialist in big guard matchups where he plays more minutes just to disrupt star guards.

    And ps - Bulls will shock everyone this year, get a clicking momentum and breeze through the playoffs with a suffocating defense that the league hasn't seen in a very long time. I'm calling it - they'll win the championship THIS season and I'm buying a box to make sure me and my pals are there to watch.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Totally agree with everything you said, quite the conundrum that we find ourselves in.

  • Deng is solid two way pro, as thibodeau would say "he plays the right way". I can see the Bulls FO offering him a 3/33 extension and that to me is a very fair price for both sides but I just don't see Deng accepting it since its his last big payday and he has worked hard during the thibodeau era, logging 40+ minutes a game like a true workhorse warrior that he is. I just see him looking for 13 million per and a team like Cleveland which needs a veteran stabilizer would gladly pay him for his talents and presence. It's probably going to be best to play out this year and keep your options open for a busy 2014 free agent market(pau gasol anyone?). You also have to factor that Butler will command 9 million per contract extension next year unless his offense falls off a cliff this year. It's not what we think they're worth, its about what the market thinks they're worth and it only takes one team to set the price.

  • I think Butler would be an upgrade on Deng because he is more dynamic and athletic. Stats might take a season or two to get up to Dengs but maybe not as Deng has never been a great PER guy just played so many minutes his stats looked better than most. I don't think we would miss him nearly as much as most do.

    My oppinion is Boozer should be amnestied as well knocking of like 35+ million or so combined from the payroll. Taj is more than capable mostly the question is can he remain healthy? You will lose some scoring pop but should be able to cover with the salary decrease (ability to add another scorer) and likely improved defense.

    Time to cut the fat (way overpaid) and lets get lean and mean. If nothing else getting rid of Deng and Boozer should make us much more athletic and exciting to watch.

  • Not a big fan of the point that the Bulls didn't really miss Deng when he was gone in the playoffs. The Bulls also lost in 5 games against the Heat, just as they did 2 years ago with MVP Rose, did we not miss Rose during last year's playoffs as well? Hell, with how poorly Rose played against the Heat during that series (23.4 ppg on an an abysmal 43.6% TS%) one might make the case that missing him might have given the Bulls a better shot of beating the Heat just like with Deng and the Nets.

    As for the Boozer vs Deng debate. In my opinion, it makes more sense to keep Deng rather than Boozer:
    1. Boozer will basically be a one year rental which means that keeping him essentially means that we'll lose both in 2 years.
    2. He is older and his trade value as an expiring is worse than Deng's.
    3. Mirotic is coming over next year and with Boozer it means that we'll have almost 28 million attached to the pf position. It would mean that we would have to either trade Boozer (which not only brings us back to point number 2 but also beats the purpose of keeping him), trade Taj (and risk having one of the worst defensive duos in the league at the pf position) or play Taj at the center position (which didn't work all that well last year and we'll still have a bad defensive duo in the pf position).

    Anyway, keeping Deng would depend on how much money he wants, how good the team is next year and how good are his replacements (Dunleavy and Snell). If Deng wants more than 12 million per year then I doubt he'll get resigned here. For how much less the Bulls are willing to sign him will depend (IMO) on the other factors (If the Bulls beat the Heat next year and Deng has a good series I might see them willing to pay him close to 12 million. On the other hand, if Snell shows flashes or the Bulls lose yet again to the Heat then I think they'll only resign him if he came in dirt cheap which he won't).

  • Doug, you wrote, " I think Chicago can throw in a two million dollar guard with some offensive skills at SG, slide Deng to SF, and not really lose much." I think you meant, "slide Butler to SF."

    Replacing Deng with an SG for $2 million is bound to weaken the team. I recall quite a few games two and three years ago where Deng won the games in the 4th quarter. But he will not be worth $10 million per year unless he really improves this season. So, keep him for a title shot this year, then he walks. Or, it the Bulls really stink near the trade deadline, trade him then.

    Now if Mirotic replaces Deng next year, that is a different matter. That should upgrade the Bulls substantially. Mirotic, Noah, Boozer, Rose and Butler starting is a strong core. If Teague and Snell develop, and if Dunleavy and Taj play well, that team could challenge in 2014-2015.

    Thus, on paper, the Bulls could challenge this season and next. Another piece or two would really help, like the backup C, but they are getting closer.

    Then for 2015-2016, Boozer is gone and they get the Charlotte pick. Hopefully with cap space for a good FA pickup. Most teams would like the Bulls situation. It should stay interesting.

  • Any of the above solutions which include Taj starting is the BIGGEST RISK in the bunch. Lets get real. Taj had a DOWN year last year. We paid him as if he was going to improve. We anticipated better, paid him the big $, and he got worse. I've heard all the reasons(injuries, playing him some at center)..,and I don't buy it. He got worse, not better. And we are an offensively challenged team because........

    When Taj is on the court, he is there for "D", which puts more pressure on the other 4 guys to score.

    Here is my hope..,Taj gets better offensively because Rose is back. Very, very possible I think. But, Rose is a starter, Taj in Not, and there will me some major minutes our "O" will be challenged. Taj better hit those open-jumpers he likes to take.

    As far as Deng..,I want to wait till midseason to see how he and the team are doing. You can resign or trade him before the deadline. Those are my choices based on a lot more info(the first 35-40 games)


  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    Taj had a down year but that doesn't undo 3 years of solid work. He's more likely the guy we saw for 3 years than the injured, out-of-sync guy we saw last year. I wouldn't necessarily expect him to improve from what he was, but I have to think last year was anomaly.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I certainly hope that is the case, because last year was no way to celebrate hitting it big with a new contract. Hopefully, he isn't one of those guys, who get paid and go away. Hopefully, somehow it was a case of trying too hard to live up to the contract, something that I don't quite understand, but something that Noah said impacted his play after he signed his big deal.

  • Doug, glad to see that you and a majority of Bulls fans have finally come to the conclusion that I made all the way back at the peak(2007) of the Bulls "young core" debate(Hinrich, Deng and Gordon). Non of those guys was ever going to be good enough to be a significant contributor to a championship caliber team.

    I have always contended that from the minute that Deng turned down the original 5 year $55 million deal he should have been traded, and that from the minute that he signed his current deal, he was massively overpaid and more or less untradeable, despite the fact that I have never stopped trying to suggest trades for him.

    So at this point we just have to ride out this year and/or hope that a greater fool magically appears at the trade deadline.

    I am in the camp that doesn't want him back at any price. It is time to move on, no matter what happens this season.

  • "We've seen Deng have a number of significant injuries in his career, and I don't know that the team has ever suffered for it."

    Doug, the above is nuts.
    "Deng's injury may have been the key to beating the Brooklyn Nets last season as he was absolutely abysmal in that series."

    And the above is even more nuts. You do remember he missed more than game 7, and they didn't win that other home game?

    The absence of Deng's all-around and responsible play has always been evident. Particuarly on defense. It's like people are oblivious to the reality that the Bulls became an awful defensive team in the playoffs with Deng and Hinrich. And their record in those games reflected it.

  • In reply to scotter:

    correction to the last line: without Deng and Hinrich. But I assume that was evident from context.

  • In reply to scotter:

    Completely agree.

  • "Last dance with Luol Deng/
    One more time to win a ri-i-ing/
    I feel august creepin' in and Doug's/
    trading Lu agai-i-n"

    I guess it wouldn't be august unless we were talking about trading Luol. It's not until August & September every year that I come to a deep understanding of why the Bleacher Report even exists. Brutal. Anyway, you think a front office that decided that out of the entirety of planet Earth's options the best choice available at backup PG was Kirk Hinrich is going to move Luol? Possible, but not likely.

    It's a fair point about not missing him but in the Thibodeau era the same can said for pretty much ALL the Bulls' players, even Derrick over short absences.

    Whether you miss him is the wrong question. The question is, can you beat Miami without him? Probably not. And that seems to be the FO's take on it for now. Somebody was writing about a Rose-Butler-Mirotic-Boozer-Noah lineup and that's pretty drool-worthy if it turns out Nikola can guard SFs down the line. And I do think that one reason they went after Dunleavy wasn't just for shooting but also just in case some desperate team slipped up and offered a lottery pick for Lu. They'd have to say yes to that. But I think the most likely outcome is the Bulls and Deng agree to a max-year contract at a discounted salary (so say 5 years at 9 or 10 million, the extra year buys the discount) and the Bulls leisurely trade Luol Deng 2 or 3 years into it when the next generation lineup is better developed.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    There are dual factors involved here - cost and benefit. Deng has won the Bulls a lot of games. Why did the coaches vote him in as an All star? Whim? A lot of coaches saw his value.

    However, Rose and Taj and Boozer are all getting salary jumps next year. That is where Deng's salary will go. If the Bulls were to resign him for, say, $9 million per year, that is not too bad in itself. But with the tax, it will cost the Bulls $18 million per year!! That is a killer and will not happen unless someone else (Boozer) leaves.
    The cost versus benefit kills the resigning. Period. Basic math.

    Even bringing Mirotic over next year might be tough, given the aforementioned salary jumps. But let's say that happens. If, note IF, Butler, Teague, Snell and Mirotic all progress and jell, that is a very good team without Deng.

    Then in 2015-2016, Boozer's contract has expired, so they have a shot at a good FA. Plus the Charlotte pick may finally hit in the summer of 2015. However, some of what was Boozers salary will go to resigning Butler.

    Resigning Deng next season puts all of those 2014 to 2016 scenarios in jeprody. Won't happen.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    Yea, we can't beat Miami without somebody to hold Lebron to a 30+ ppg triple double while totally disappearing on offense himself due to being scared to death(physically incabable) of going at Lebron.

  • Choosing Boozer over Deng is absurd, regardless of your rationale, regardless of the rest of the roster, regardless if the world is coming to an end and only Carlos Boozer has the solution. He is the worst player on our team, especially for the money.

    Deng may not be worth 13-14M, but he may not be asking that either. He is worth more than 7M and the Bulls will offer him more. Anointing Snell to starting 2-guard in order to shed Deng...I mean...yeah, I could see that if Snell plays like a young Pippen this year. Instead, expect him to play in 45 games for about 8 mins per, and expect the Bulls to re-up Deng for 3-4 yrs at 10-11M.

    The future is Mirotic/Gibson, Deng, Noah, Rose and Butler...and it's a bright one.

  • So now Center Dexter Pittman is coming to Bulls training camp, non-guaranteed.

  • Can you imagine if the Bulls flipped Deng to Golden State in the 2012 draft? The Bulls could have selected Harrison Barnes. I'm sure the Bulls knew that there was a chance Rose could miss the entire season, so getting something for Deng at the time should have made sense.

    The Bulls may have had to add a bit more to make it happen, but I was dying for Barnes at the time. They guy has great size, is a plus defender, and shot about 37% from 3 as a rookie. With Butler, Barnes and Mirotic, Rose would get great floor spacing.

  • In reply to Granby:

    I still have serious doubts that anyone was willing to give us a lottery, especially top 10 pick for Deng, without us taking back a hideously bad contract. So I don't think that getting Barnes was anywhere near a reality.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Agreed, I've heard this mentioned 1000 times here as a deal the Bulls passed on but haven't seen confirmation anywhere that a deal was on the table.

  • I like Deng, but I must admit that his lack of offense is part of the Bulls problem. At some point, isn't it just better to stick a guy like Belineli at the 2 and move Butler to the 3, like Doug said? Last year would have been the perfect year to unload Deng (with 2 years left on his deal) with Rose possibly out the entire season, like I said above. Now, you can't get much for him. Hopefully that means the Bulls can sign him for $6-8 mil per season for 4 years? If nobody wants him or will trade for him, how can he expect to get paid over $10 mil per season?

    Regarding Snell, I think he could be a great shooter and defender, but he won't create much offense off the dribble. The hope is that Snell/Butler/Mirotic going forward after 2013-2014 can space the floor for Rose (and Noah inside).

  • Doug, you said that your listener made a great point when he wrote that "the thing about Deng is that you never really miss him when he's out." As you know, fans often people see (or don't see) what they want to see (or don't want to see).

    Over Deng's career, the Bulls are 96 games over .500 when he plays and an even 44-44 when he doesn't.

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