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Trading Zach LaVine to Every NBA Team: Valuing Portable Stars

Yesterday marked the 22nd day of the 23-24 NBA season and on that 22nd day Shams Charania broke the news that “NBA teams are probing the availability of Bulls two-time All-Star Zach LaVine and there is increased openness from both sides about exploring a trade”. AKA Zach LaVine isn’t finishing this season as a Bull, saddle up for the latest NBA trade saga that you didn’t know you needed!

So, just over three weeks have passed and we’ve already got another star on the trade block but in my opinion Zach LaVine is different to the likes of James Harden and Damian Lillard who both hit the market during the off-season. The aforementioned are primary ball handlers, James said it best “I’m not a system player, I am a system.” It’s slightly unfair to tarnish Dame with the same brush but like James he needs the ball in his hands to be most effective; if you trade for Dame just like with James your offense will look pretty different the first time they suit up in your colors.

That’s not the case with LaVine. Yes he likes the ball in his hands but in comparison to Lillard and Harden he’s an easier plug and play offensive player than you might think. Harden had the ball in hand for 8.6 minutes per game last year, 2nd in the league behind Luka while Dame had the ball for 7.6 minutes per game (5th most in the league). Zach had the ball for 4.4 minutes per game last year, less than the likes of Monte Morris, Tre Jones and Josh Giddey.

What this means is when our two primary guys hit the market last year only a handful of teams had true interest in acquiring their services. If you’re trading for a James Harden or Damian Lillard, i.e giving up significant assets it’s likely you’re pretty good and if you’re pretty good completely overhauling the structure of your team on one side of the floor is a pretty big deal. That’s why we saw a fairly limited market for Lillard, a top 10 player in the NBA last year, but things will be different with Lavine.

Zach can shoot the lights out on and off ball. He made 41.6% of his catch and shoot 3’s last year and a respectable 34.2% of his pull ups from outside the arc. He’s a great driver of the ball, this year he’s drawing a foul on 14% of his drives to the basket (3rd best in the league), and when he gets to the rim he finished at an elite level (69%,70% and 69% from 0-3 feet in the last 3 seasons.)

He’s a portable offensive star. If you need him to create for himself he can do so at pretty high efficiency from behind the arc, the midrange and at the rim. If you surround him with other stars who need to have the ball in their hands he’s a capable cutter and movement shooter. LaVine is a man that despite defensive concerns can fit into any team in the league which brings us to the premise of this article.

Zach LaVine is so portable that I’m going to rank the 29 remaining teams in the league by how suitable they are as a trade destination for the 28 year old star. So, read ahead to see where your team comes in, which scenarios would be most fun and ultimately where LaVine should end up by the time this soon to be trade saga is over!

Tier 1:

Not Happening:

29 – Celtics: It’s not possible, it’s not probable, it’s not advisable. The Boston Celtics look to be the best team in the Eastern Conference this year so no, they aren’t adding Zach and his $40.3 million dollar salary to their books this year. Hypothetically LaVine could fit in this core. Say Jaylen Brown becomes unhappy LaVine can very much replicate his skill set and would make a great 2nd scoring option in Boston but they’ve got a good thing going, this move would make no sense.

28 – Wizards: Please don’t try to be mid again. The Washington Wizards are one of the worst teams in the NBA this year. Lets keep them that way! Currently rocking a 2-8 record, -6.7 net rating. It’s time for the Wizards to tank it out, focus on developing Bilal Coulibaly, see if they have anything in Jordan Poole and secure a bright young star by the time the 2024 draft rolls around. It is not time to trade for Zach LaVine.

27 – Trail Blazers: See Wizards… I’m kidding! Portland is at a similar developmental stage to the Wiz, 1st year of the rebuild, but sending LaVine to Portland would create a gaudy abundance of springy hoopers who can shoot the lights out from outside. Shaedon’s game is reminiscent of LaVine’s, let him fill that role in Oregon. The one thing they do have is decent matching salary that the Wizards didn’t really possess so you could in theory send out Brogdon, RWIII and Kris Murray along with a draft asset or two if you get Joe Cronin’s job and want to create a really fun 2K team.

26 – Cavaliers: This one just isn’t really possible without giving up Garland, Mitchell or Mobley so for that reason I’m out. In theory you could package together Jarrett Allen, Caris Lavert and Ricky Rubio for Zach LaVine and Andre Drummond. Throw in pick swaps in 24 and 30 and guess what… You’re still nowhere near!

25 – Nuggets: So… This is the first trade I kinda like in this list. Nuggets receive Zach LaVine – Bulls receive Michael Porter Jr, Reggie Jackson and pick swaps in all the even years, 2024 through to 2030. This move is insurance against MPJ’s injury history and Jamal Murray’s long term health. I like the idea of both Murray and LaVine being able to work a two man game with Jokic. In fact Zach is sort of like a hybrid between Murray and Gordon. All that razzle dazzle on ball with the movement shooting combined with the athleticism, cutting and dunking ability. I think this move would be really fun but it’s never happening. An underrated reason the Nuggets dominated the post season last year was size across the board. I’m not trading my 6ft 10 small forward who’s shown a real nose for a rebound in the last few months and has taken significant steps defensively both on and off ball. This section should have been called 2K trades, this might be one you make on a save but I don’t see Calvin Booth breaking up a championship core mid-season.

Tier 2:

Can We Have A Re-Do:

24 – Suns: The title of this tier should be a give away. I think our next three destinations might want the last few months back seeing how the seasons unfolded thus far. On the Phoenix front… I don’t know how far they’d go back. They probably didn’t have the assets pre-Bradley Beal trade but there’s an argument that Ayton and all the swaps they gave away could have been enticing for the Bulls. I’d favor LaVine over Beal in Sunset Valley because he’d be their one guy that can get all the way to the rim in that big 3 but largely of the teams in this tier I think they’re least likely to ask for a do-over to trade for LaVine.

23 – Bucks: Spicy, I made the comparison up top but there’s a difference between trading for Damian Lillard and Zach LaVine. Be honest with yourselves. If Jon Horst could go back, seeing the monster he’s created in Boston, seeing the monstrosity of a defense he’s created in Milwaukee, do you think he pulls the trigger for Lillard? Maybe, but if I could go back I’d stand pat, go into the season with last years core and now I think I’d be at the front of the queue for LaVine. I can offer Khris Middleton who can be spun off to a third team for additional assets, swaps in 28 and 30 as well as an unprotected first in 29 for the Bulls number 8. I get to keep Jrue Holiday, keep my league best defensive set-up and upgrade my crunch time outside scorer while also juicing my transition attack. It could all work out for Dame and Giannis in Milwaukee but if it doesn’t remember the article you read on the internet that pitched a conceivable alternative.

22 – Clippers: Maybe it’s just the 0-5 start talking but I don’t think James Harden’s time in LA has started too well. LaVine is an LA native and a younger star that could have eased the burden on PG13 and Kawhi without taking away all their touches. Maybe they have to give up more draft capital for LaVine but he’s a better fit for this group and this would have been a trade that didn’t consign them to a dismal looking back-half of the 2020’s.

Tier 3:

It’s Not You It’s Me:

21 – Grizzlies: We’re officially into the teams that could consider a LaVine trade both situationally and from an asset perspective, so first up. Your Memphis Grizzlies. LaVine is a mirage in the desert to the Grizzlies parched traveler. From a distance all looks great, imagine having both Desmond Bane and Zach LaVine to space the floor for Ja Morant in the half court. Imagine having Ja and Zach constantly look to get out in transition and make it their mission to feature on the “NBA’s top 10 plays of the night” as much as possible. Offensively the fit is there. From an asset perspective, Memphis has all their picks and a couple of interesting young players. They’ve got tradable salary in Luke Kennard, Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams. Get this man to Graceland. But no, on the defensive end I don’t think you can close with Ja, Bane, LaVine, Smart and JJJ and if you aren’t doing that you have a pretty unhappy camper on a night to night basis. With their turgid start to the 23-24 season it looks unwise to trade draft picks before you know where you stand with Morant. And even if you get past those two issues you become ridiculously expensive next year with Bane’s extension kicking in and have zero depth in the front court. Like a mirage this idea fades pretty fast if you keep looking into it.

20 – Hawks: I’ll keep it simple for the Hawks, they too have tradable salary, they have young players, a handful of picks but moving for LaVine leaves you way too small in a playoff setting. His fit would be really fun next to Trae and I see his place in a Quin Snyder offense but the Hawks are better off keeping the likes of Deandre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and AJ Griffin, maintaining flexibility on the trade market and the defensive end of the floor.

19 – Pelicans: This kinda works but I think you’re too vulnerable defensively adding LaVine to lineups with CJ and Zion. I don’t think the ball gets shared enough if McCollum is part of the package which leaves Brandon Ingram as the trade piece. While he and Zion don’t seem to have the greatest synergy the Pelicans have enough off ball shooting threat from the likes of Trey Murphy, Jordan Hawkins and even Matt Ryan who has helped out in the first stretch of games this season. Definition of a “it’s not you it’s me” trade scenario.

18 – Rockets: Zach would be super fun in Houston! Playing with Sengun ensures he finds wide open lanes to the rim, he’d space the floor for their developing stars and cement their status as a play-in level team with upside to make some noise this year in the post season. But, it’s difficult to make work financially if you’re holding onto Dillon Brooks and I think the addition of Zach tips the scales away from healthy environment for the young guys to develop to “where have all our minutes gone.” Don’t quite see it happening.

17 – Heat: I think a lot of people would have them higher up on a list like this but there are a few things I don’t like. Kyle Lowry sits there, a boobytrap for trade machine users to use with his expiring $29.6 million dollar salary but he’s quietly playing 29.5 minutes a game for a team that’s just won 7 straight. If you move Lowry you lose the only true PG on the roster and find yourself doing a Phoenix Suns impression just on the East Coast. Tyler Herro has started the season well and fills a similar role to LaVine on both ends of the floor. Even trading Lowry and Robinson for LaVine and Caruso, alleviating the PG problem, leaves Miami with two movement shooters on the entire roster. I don’t like it for the Heat even if a move could make sense on the surface.

16 – Nets: I’m only doing this if I move Ben Simmons the other way. I can be sold on a Simmons plus picks swap for LaVine and that’s no indictment on the player Simmons has been this year. It’s just that 10 games in and he’s already struggling with his back once again. So unless you can pitch Chicago on Ben I don’t like the idea of having two $40,000,000 contracts on the books and stifling Cam Thomas’ break out season in the process.

Tier 4:

Wildly Unrealistic but Super Fun:

15 – Spurs: Now we’re talking! Gregg Poppovich has shown a propensity for playing winning basketball over the years. Thank you, thank you that’s it for my cutting edge NBA analysis. But in all seriousness Pop hears time ticking away and I think that injecting LaVine into the Spurs system could bring a pretty huge turn around in their season fortunes. While it isn’t the PG addition they’re crying out for; adding LaVine would space the court for the likes of Wemby, Vassell and Keldon Johnson offensively. He’d thrive in a go to scorer role for the Spurs and help fix their dire 106.6 offensive rating. I like how you could add him into their team, increase production without taking away major on ball reps for your young guys. If San Antonnio is feeling opportunistic they could offer up expiring salary in Doug McDermott, Devonte Graham (partially guaranteed for $2.85 million next year) and Cedi Osman as well as draft capital for LaVine, accelerating their timeline, easing the burden on the young core and bringing Pop back to his happy place AKA not a -13.4 Net rating

14 – Pacers: I don’t think there’s a team in NBA history that’d suit Zach LaVine more on the offensive side of the ball than the 23-24 Indianna Pacers. Tyrese Haliburton has been finding Obi Toppin, Benedict Mathurin, Bruce Brown, anyone willing to sprint down the court, all season long in semi-transition opportunities, insert Zach LaVine here… Then in the half court the Pacers run simple actions, keeping the ball moving with multiple attackers and a spaced out floor to operate in; insert Zach LaVine here… They’d be joyous to watch on one side of the ball and writing this I’m sort of selling myself on the idea but they’d be one of the more lopsided NBA teams in recent memory. I think when Indi makes a trade it’ll be for a guy who can help them on the defensive end, not accentuate their already considerable offensive strengths.

13 – Kings: See that thing I wrote about the Pacers, it applies here too. Brilliant offensive potential but I don’t like how it’d leave the Kings short of wing/forward depth. Harrison Barnes and Kevin Huerter would inevitably have to be involved which leaves you relying on Sasha Vezenkhov to play meaningful minutes, Chris Duarte to step up, Trey Lyles to continue last years form. Both of these teams would be super fun with LaVine but really they should be looking at an O.G Anunoby type for that next big move.

12 – Jazz: They feel a little high up here but there are reasons the Jazz should consider this. They have easy matching salary in Olynyk and Sexton, both of whom don’t feel like long term guys in Utah. Add in a young player and a pick or two and suddenly you’re back to having an identity. Lauri and LaVine as your two offensive stars, both guys capable of playing on and off ball and shooting +40% from 3. They’d play fast, they’d be massive, they have flexibility in the front court with Kessler and Collins. This is another team that’s actually lacking a PG but having watched Utah last year, particularly post trade deadline I admired the pace they played with to alleviate that deficiency. I just feel like LaVine could be unleashed under Will Hardy. The Jazz supposedly want to win this year and Danny Ainge plays the markets a little differently to just about every other NBA GM out there.

11 – Hornets: This could feature a lot higher. I love the fit. Slot Zach in at the shooting guard, Miller provides size the the 3, Washington and Williams in the front court and Lamelo running the show. That’s a great starting 5 with Terry Rozier and Nick Richards coming off the bench; I think it’s a playoff rotation. Send Hayward and any other Hornets player to the Bulls and the money works but the deal falls down when it comes to pick capital. The Hornets currently have a first in the wind (top 14 protected), owed to the Knicks for Kai Jones (masterclass from Mitch Kupchak there) but the pick turns into 2nd’s if it doesn’t convey by 2025. So with that being the situation you could trade any pick from 2027 onwards for LaVine. I think two Hornets firsts gets it done but if you’re new management in Charlotte are you willing to trade draft capital that far out into the future? I think the team would be good. Lamelo, Miller and Williams continue to improve, you add relatively high picks in 24 and 25, that should insulate against the embarrasment of giving up a high pick to Chicago ala Brooklyn Nets in 2016 and 2017. But, can the smallest market in the league risk that kind of situation. Say LaVine gets injured, Lamelo asks out. A season is a long time in the world of the NBA so if you think you can project 4 years into the future good luck to you. I like the fit, I think Charlotte should be interested but ultimately this’ll be too risky a proposition for Hornets top brass.

It might be worth trading for LaVine just to avoid another turn around like this one:

Tier 5:

I Could But I Really Shouldn’t:

10 – Warriors: We’re into the top 10! This next selection of teams are teams that could realistically pull a move off. You’ll probably see them linked but for one reason or another I don’t like it for each franchise. First up the Warriors. “Get Steph some help” every TV analyst shouts as they watch Curry put up 30 a game in his age 35 season. LaVine would certainly fix their scoring issues, propping up the offense and fitting in seamlessly to the Warriors movement system but it’s about what you give up. If it’s a package around CP3’s contract you give up the first good bench unit the Warriors have had since KD was in town. If you give up Klay you’re losing the heart and soul of the franchise and only really making a slight upgrade in the scoring department. Trade Wiggins? Sure but then you have one 6ft 8 wing defender on the roster in Jonathan Kuminga. Include Kuminga in the trade package? Exact same issue. Whatever avenue the Warriors pursue to get a deal for Zach done I don’t really like. They’re either left too small, without a structure for the non Steph minutes or a little soulless. I prefer the idea of Golden State pursuing Pascal Siakam at the deadline so I’m holding my chips if I’m Mike Dunleavy.

9 – Thunder: A go to 2nd scorer could really elevate the Thunder to fringe contenders. As we’ve mentioned countless times now, LaVine would open up space for the rest of the team, shifting from on-ball duties to off-ball duties in a pinch. I’ve seen suggestions that Giddey could be included in a deal which preserves your warchest of draft assets but my issue is a financial one for OKC. Pull the trigger on Zach and suddenly you’re looking at a super expensive future. I think the Thunder are in position to chase a top 10 guy whenever he comes onto the market so if I’m Sam Presti I’m trying to maximize my two max contract slots and while LaVine is a great player, there’s better value to be had for the number he’s making. Fun fit but financially you’re running into trouble when it comes time to pay your young stars.

8 – Knicks: Don’t laugh at me. I just don’t want to trade RJ Barrett yet… 22ppg this year! Solid defender, 50% from 3! 84.8% from the charity stripe. Barrett isn’t as good as LaVine but he’s paid roughly 17.5% of the cap for the rest of his contract. LaVine is paid 30% and he’s older! The Knicks should see what they have in RJ, they’ve started the season well. There’s no need to rush this.

7 Mavericks: See Pacers and Kings section. Offense, perfect, great fit next to Luka and Kyrie, you can have two offensive stars on the court at all times but much like the other two teams I’d rather pursue someone to help me on the defensive end of the court with my remaining assets. Man would it be fun though…

Tier 6:

They’re Having a Meeting:

6 – Timberwolves: We’re at the classic Bill Simmons “they’re taking a meeting” stage here. From this point on every franchise listed is sitting down with the decision makers talking this through. Starting with Minnesota, simple trade package, Towns for LaVine, who says no? LaVine is cheaper than Towns over the next few years, he adds another perimeter scorer to the mix, movement shooting, a much better traditional fit than KAT at the Target Center. But… They’re first in defense, absolutely flying as a team and check out Towns’ stats over the past 4 games:

On paper you probably make this trade if you’re Minnesota. The Bulls could move Vucevic to a team like Memphis for a first in next years draft and not completely enter the rebuilding stage if they were that way inclined. The thing is, I think the Wolves have to see this jumbo experiment through. Bringing in LaVine means you’re asking Jaden McDaniels to guard 4’s in all likelihood and he’s so special on the perimeter that I think I want to avoid that. If Towns can work in Minnesota then you’re posing a ridiculously tough matchup to every team in the association. They look more conventional with LaVine in KAT’s place but this Frankenstinian roster experiment might just have a higher ceiling.

5 – 76ers: Some of you might have expected for Philadelphia to top this list! Post Harden trade LaVine was one of the most mentioned names in trade hypotheses in relation to the 76ers. And it makes sense. An additional scorer that can keep defenses honest, prevent them from loading up on Maxey and Embiid. Solid theory, available, Philadelphia has matching salary at the ready. Get it done right? Sure, it works but it leaves you a little small on the perimeter. It places a ton of responsibility at the feet of Tobias Harris to once again guard the likes of Tatum and Giannis in the post season. This move improves the 76ers but it takes away their off-season flexibility and locks them into an Embiid, Maxey, LaVine core. I’ll keep writing it but I just think I’d rather have OG Anunoby/Pascal Siakam in Philadelphia.

4 – Raptors: The Raptors have been on a rollercoaster ride to start the season this year. They’re a 500. team with a -0.8 net rating. They’re 7th in defensive rating and 27th in offensive rating. Get this team a source of offensive inspiration. We’ve touched on it a lot now but Zach fits with star players. I like the diversity of the game he and Scottie could develop with each other with Zach being utilized as a movement shooter in the Toronto system, someone who could work with Barnes in handoff situations, as a ball handler in the pick and roll. Surrounding Scottie with versatile offensive players will bring the most out of his game. The question is how do you go about acquiring LaVine? Two weeks ago I’d have suggested sending Pascal to a third team and using those assets to acquire the number 13 pick in the 2014 draft. Pascal has since turned his season around going off for 31, 17 and 39 in his last three outings. Maybe you parlay assets acquired in an OG Anunoby trade for LaVine? If OG has signaled that he plans to leave in free agency next year this is the play. He’s been incredible on the defensive end being destructive at the POA allowing Scottie to play as the low-man racking up those insane STOCKS numbers but Schroeder, LaVine, Siakam, Barnes and Poeltl looks a more balanced lineup than the one currently constructed. There is a scenario where the Raptors could look to offer their own picks, perhaps Precious Achuiwa/Christian Koloko and look to maintain all of their starters. Gary Trent jr., Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young make the money work but with picks already owed to San Antonnio I’m not sure Toronto takes this approach. That kind of move would leave them super expensive without a championship ceiling unless Barnes truly becomes a superstar. So in short I’d be happy if Zach ends up north of the border. It just depends how Toronto chooses to go about acquiring the 28 year old and whether they’d be better off slightly resetting the clock, looking to get picks back in a potential Siakam/Anunoby trade.

Tier 7:

And in 3rd:

3 – Pistons: Apparently I’m just going to write about a potential Pistons trade every week. Last time out it was Siakam heading to Motor CIty but I think Zach fits really well in Detroit as well. To keep it short if you aren’t going to utilize Jaden Ivey, don’t let his trade value diminish on the bench, use that asset to go and acquire a star that opens up the court for Cade and co. At the moment Cunningham is playing in a phonebox, constantly crowded out in the paint, facing aggressive PnR coverages. Without the players around him to draw attention away Cade has registered a league high 60 turnovers through his first 12 games. Bringing in LaVine spaces the court, allows Cunningham to get some rest playing off ball on occasion and makes this look like a more normal basketball team. I view the Detroit Pistons as a modern day J.Kidd Brooklyn Nets, picture LaVine coming in as their Vince Carter, being a guy who can create for himself, finish at the rim, provide a threat in transition. The fit is super strong, the one thing that might prevent me from making the move is waiting for Ivey to turn it around. LaVine isn’t on the Pistons timeline so you might run into the issue of the rest of the core being ready to compete while LaVine winds down in later years.

The First Loser:

2 – Lakers: Look at the tweet down below. Where else is he going? It’s a meme at this point but I expect for Zach to end up in LA before we enter the post season. He fits like a glove next to Lebron and AD. He’s an L.A native as touched upon in our Clippers section and look who he’s represented by! It’s happening. I think the interesting wrinkle is whether Alex Caruso accompanies LaVine in a return home to Staples Center. I don’t think that the Lakers have the pick capital to bring in both LaVine and Caruso but maybe the Bulls could be swayed by the inclusion of Austin Reaves in the deal. I think the trade ends up being LaVine for DLo, Rui, an unprotected 2029 first and swaps in 2028 and 2030. This in my mind would set up the Lakers to compete with just about anyone in the Western Conference. They played out “the most competitive sweep of all time” last time out against the Nuggets, perhaps with the added scoring punch of LaVine they could make it a 7 game series…

Get it Done!

1 – Magic: While I think LaVine ends up in Los Angeles; I think he should be headed to Orlando! The Magic are rocking a +1.8 net rating with a solid defense but an offense that’s currently leaving a lot to be desired. They’re in desperate need of a consolidation trade with Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs and Anthony Black all nominal PG’s on the roster. This is a huge team with versatile young forwards, great guard defense, an underrated center. They need a bucket getter and I think LaVine would compliment their current core about as well as any player in the league.

He and Franz Wagner have great utility in being able to provide value off the ball as well as on it. Paolo and Franz have displayed playmaking ability at the 3 and 4 that would make up for Zach’s lack of creativity at the shooting guard. The Magic are currently averaging 9.6 steals per game, 2nd in the league. Imagine LaVine playing on a team that generates a ton of transition opportunities through destructive play in the passing lanes and at the point of attack.

At the moment the Magic look a player short. I think as currently constructed they make the play-in and bow out before making their first proper playoff performance in what’ll be four years. With LaVine, this team won’t win the Eastern conference but they’re well placed to upset just about anyone. As Franz and Paolo continue to improve the ceiling of this team climbs and climbs and within a couple of years, perhaps LaVine’s age 30 season, we might be looking at a conference juggernaut that’s on the ascendency just as the Celtics run into major tax issues.

The trade could take many different forms. Jonathan Isaac has an attractive contract that can help make the money work. Gary Harris is taking in $13 million dollars a year. Markelle Fultz could go to Chicago and fill the PG void that’s been left gaping for two seasons now. The Magic also have all of their own picks as well as Denver’s 2025 first and swap rights to Phoenix/Washington’s 2026 selection. The Magic could bring in LaVine while maintaining the flexibility both on the cap sheet and in assets to further improve their roster.



What do you think? I hope this article has demonstrated the value of portable stars. We could have mocked 10 destinations, even 5 but I think this has gone to show that players like LaVine who can thrive in hybrid roles will become increasingly more valuable in the years to come. Where do you hope Zach goes? Where do you expect him to go? Who’s ranked too low? Who’s ranked too high? Let me know all of your thoughts down below in the comments section.

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By Jack Quantrill


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