Knicks center Nerlens Noel filed a lawsuit on Monday against Rich Paul—a prominent NBA agent for Klutch Sports—accusing him of violating promises as well as causing the big man to miss out on nearly $58 million in lost contract money.
Paul failed to help Noel secure contracts, pitch teams and earn endorsement deals, according to a court filing received by the Sports Agent blog. Noel's attorneys, Craig F. Simon, Dennis D. Murrell and Matthew P. Dearmond, said the eight-year veteran missed out on a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavericks as a free agent in July 2017 by taking the advice of Paul, who told Noel he "was a 100 million man."
Initially, Paul was represented by agent Happy Walters when he became a free agent after being traded by the 76ers to the Mavericks in February 2017. However, during the summer of 2017, Noel worked out with several NBA players that include 76ers' Ben Simmons. Noel attended Simmons birthday party in Los Angeles and was seated by Paul, who was Simmons's agent at the time.
Paul and Noel formed a relationship. Believing Paul's words and thinking that he would get him a "max deal" in the process, Noel signed a contract with Paul on Aug. 21, 2017, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, Paul advised Noel to "cease negotiations with Dallas" and proceed with signing a previous qualifying offer—a one-year contract to play for the Mavs in exchange for payment close to $4.1 million—that Dallas presented to Noel.
In signing the single-year offer, Paul also encouraged Noel to seek a max contract deal on the free-agent market for the 2017-18 season, according to the lawsuit. However, in December 2017, Noel tore a ligament in his thumb and played only 30 games, averaging career lows in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes.
Then, according to Noel's attorneys, Paul began to lose interest in him as a client. After finishing his one-year contract and becoming an unrestricted free agent in July 2018, Paul nor "anyone at Klutch Sports presented any real proposals to Noel of strategies or ideas on how he could secure a long-term or significant contract" for the next season, according to the lawsuit.
While Noel left Dallas to play with Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Oklahoma City, he ended up signing a two-year deal worth $3.75 million with a player option in the second year. With the Thunder, Noel averaged nearly 14 minutes per game through 77 appearances in the 2018-19 season.
Taking Paul's advice, again, Noel declined the player option on his second year but later signed another one-year league-minimum deal with OKC in July 2019. According to the lawsuit, the 76ers and other league teams attempted to contact Paul to discuss deals of possibly signing Noel but Paul did not return their phone calls.
During the 2019-20 season, Noel thought about terminating his contract with Klutch Sports in January. According to the lawsuit, Noel expressed his concern with Klutch Sports' Lucas Newton, who had told Noel that OKC was "planning on offering him a three-year deal between $7 to $10 million per year." Noel decided not to terminate his relationship with Paul. However, during the 2019-20 offseason, Noel "later learned that representatives from the Rockets and the Clippers" reached out to Paul to pursue him but Paul was not taking their calls, according to the lawsuit.
In November 2020, Noel signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Knicks before ending his relationship with Klutch Sports the next month as his frustrations built when he "learned that Paul had a history of mismanaging and ignoring other less notable clients, such as Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammad, and costing them significant money," the lawsuit stated.
Paul represents NBA stars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Trae Young and others.
Earlier this month, Noel signed a three-year, $32 million deal with the Knicks after averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 blocks in 24.2 minutes of action through 64 games.
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