Knicks C Nerlens Noel sues Rich Paul, claims hiring mega-agent cost him $58 million

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Rich Paul, the NBA mega-agent who represents LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Trae Young and others, is being sued by a former client, according to a court filing obtained by Sports Agent Blog.

The player in question is New York Knicks big man Nerlens Noel, who hired Paul as his agent in 2017 and fired him in 2020. In the years in between, Noel claims that Paul's failed promises and professional negligence cost him up to $58 million in lost contract money.

In the lawsuit, Noel claims Paul breached his fiduciary duty, both by advising him to turn down a long-term contract extension and basically ignoring attempts by teams to contact him about his client.

Why Nerlens Noel is suing Rich Paul

According to the lawsuit, Noel and Paul's relationship allegedly began when they met at the birthday party of Ben Simmons, a Paul client, in July 2017. At the time, Noel was playing for the Dallas Mavericks and had averaged 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game across three NBA seasons.

Noel, who had been represented by agent Happy Walters since he was drafted sixth overall in 2013, claims he received an extension offer from the Mavericks amounting to four years and $70 million. Paul allegedly pitched Noel as a client by saying the player was "a $100 million man" and could receive a max offer if he hired Paul.

Noel says he hired Paul and subsequently rejected the Mavericks' offer, instead signing a $4.1 million qualifying offer to become a free agent the following summer. That decision would prove costly as Noel struggled in the 2017-18 season, playing only 30 games due to a thumb injury and averaging career lows in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes.

At that point, Noel claims Paul "began to lose interest" in him as a client. He hit unrestricted agency in 2018 and claims neither Paul nor anyone at his agency Klutch Sports presented any offers or strategies.

Instead of signing a max contract, Noel ended up signing a league minimum deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for two years and $3.75 million. Even that contract allegedly didn't come from Paul, as Noel says he was personally recruited by then-Thunder stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 11:  Sports agent Rich Paul looks on after the game between the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on March 11, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The NBA announced tonight the season has been suspended after a Utah Jazz player preliminary tested positive for the coronavirus. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Nerlens Noel wasn't impressed with Rich Paul's work as his agent. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

After a solid season as a bench player for the Thunder, Noel opted out of his contract in 2019 and once again hit free agency ... where he says he received no offers. Another league minimum contract with the Thunder would follow, but Noel says he later learned from Brett Brown, his former coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, that the Sixers attempted to contact Paul about signing Noel only to not have any of their calls taken or returned. Noel claims he learned of other teams encountering the same reception.

Noel says he considered dropping Paul as his agent in 2020, but was convinced to stay by Klutch agent Lucas Newton, whom Noel claims told him the Thunder were planning to offer a three-year deal worth $7-10 million per year. No such offer came, and Noel says he again heard of other teams, this time the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, not having any calls returned by Paul. 

Noel would eventually sign with the New York Knicks for one year and $5 million, but he says only after Knicks president Leon Rose contacted his friend and advisor to set up a meeting. Noel's most productive season in years followed, averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for the resurgent Knicks.

Noel says he dropped Paul in Dec. 2020 after learning other, less famous Klutch clients such as Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammed had their careers mismanaged by Paul. In his first free agency without Paul involved, Noel signed a three-year, $32 million contract with the Knicks.

Add up that qualifying offer and league minimum deals, and Noel says you get $58 million lost when you consider he could have been playing on a $70 million contract.

Rich Paul is one of the most powerful agents in the NBA

Both Paul's origin story and his current status in the NBA require little introduction for NBA fans.

Paul met James shortly after the latter was selected first overall in the 2003 NBA draft. At the time, Paul had been selling retro jerseys out of his car in Cleveland, picking them up from a supplier in Atlanta. James was impressed enough with Paul that he inducted him into his inner circle, leading to Paul's hire at CAA, James' agency at the time.

Paul would open his own agency, Klutch, in 2012 and take James as his first client. Over the years, Klutch has grown into one of the most powerful agencies in the league and has even entered the realm of the NFL. Paul's agency is responsible for over $1 billion in contracts, and the man himself is easily the most discussed agent in his field, most recently via the revelation that he is dating pop star Adele.

Few agents can rival the star power Paul represents. If Noel's claims are to be believed, his work isn't as impressive when his client isn't a star.

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