It would be impossible to overstate the significance Jeff Green's contract status has on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Just know that as the NBA's free agency period opens tonight at 11 p.m. it's Green, not Kevin Durant, who will shape the landscape of Oklahoma City's future.
Durant is the franchise player, the star who garners the headlines and the highlights, the awards and the accolades. And soon, Durant will be paid accordingly, likely with a maximum contract for his talents.
Meanwhile, Green's contributions, and what they're worth, have become an afterthought to many. But, like Durant, Green also is eligible for a contract extension this summer. And Thunder management has a critical decision ahead of pinpointing Green's worth.
It's a decision that could have long-lasting effects for the next six seasons.
If Oklahoma City overpays Green, the franchise's financial framework could be wrecked. If the Thunder comes in too low, the team could ruin relationships or, worse, lose a key cog to what is quickly showing the makings of a soon-to-be championship-caliber squad. Avoid both and find a middle ground and Green's deal still could set a standard for the franchise's players who follow.
It's the business of the NBA at its best.
"It's going to be important," Durant said. "Jeff is a real key part to our team. I really want him to stay. That's like my brother. I don't want him to leave. We've been so good together, everybody...I don't want to see anything break up over non-basketball-related things. It's going to be a tough summer for everybody, not just our team but everybody. But I think we'll stick together."
If the Thunder doesn't come to terms on a deal by Oct. 31, Green will become a restricted free agent next summer. OKC, however, would have the right to match any offer another team might make.
Atlanta recently has had success retaining Josh Smith and Marvin Williams through restricted free agency while keeping their respective contracts relatively cost-efficient. But because the ceiling for Green's game is still very much an enigma, it remains unclear where he could fall in this summer's free agency frenzy.
Green had a breakthrough season during 2008-09 but regressed slightly this past year. Still, only nine other players since 2000-01 have posted third-year averages of at least 15 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals — Durant, LeBron James, Steve Francis, Shawn Marion, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Antawn Jamison, Kenyon Martin and Andrei Kirilenko.
"He can't expect the max," said one league executive speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's not a max player. He's a $10 million a year player at best."
With Durant, Green, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, Byron Mullens and now Cole Aldrich, a popular question among Thunder fans is how the team can possibly keep all of its young talent. It hasn't yet become an issue since most of the team's core is still on rookie scale contracts.
But when it comes time to extend those contracts, especially if each player performs to his abilities, the Thunder could be in trouble — which is why Green's deal holds so much significance.
Westbrook is next in line for an extension next summer.
Harden, Ibaka, Maynor and Mullens are up in 2012.
Aldrich is due in 2013.
"They don't want to set a precedent where they overpay Green and have Russell Westbrook come in and say he's a max (player)," the exec said. "He's not a max player either. He's a good player but he's not a max player."