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Knicks' Nerlens Noel Sues Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, Claims $58M in Lost Earnings

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVAugust 25, 2021

Elsa/Pool Photo via AP

New York Knicks big man Nerlens Noel has initiated a lawsuit that named agent Rich Paul and the Klutch Sports Group agency as defendants.

According to a report from Darren Heitner for Sports Agent Blog, Noel is claiming $58 million in lost earnings and said Paul convinced him to pass on a four-year, $70 million deal he was negotiating with the Dallas Mavericks because he "was a 100 million man."

Noel decided to end his relationship with agent Happy Walters and signed with Paul before signing a $4.1 million qualifying offer with the hope of signing a max deal as a free agent down the line. However, the University of Kentucky product said Paul started losing interest in him after he suffered a torn ligament in his thumb and never delivered the max value promised.

Walter had been with Noel since before he was selected with the No. 6 overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft, but the conversation with Paul that allegedly happened at Ben Simmons' birthday party in 2017 convinced him to switch to Klutch.

"During the free agent season which began on July 1, 2018, and after Noel's one-year contract with Dallas expired, neither Paul nor anyone at Klutch Sports presented any real proposals to Noel in terms of strategies or ideas on how Noel might secure a long-term contract or even a significant contract for the following season," the complaint read. "Indeed, as the 2018 NBA free agent season began, no real offers or deals were presented to Noel on the first day of free agency."

Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that Noel filed the lawsuit only after Klutch filed a grievance with the National Basketball Players Association that said the center had failed to pay $200,000 in commission on his first one-year deal with the Knicks.

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Noel ultimately signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder on a league-minimum contract and then did so again for the 2019-20 season after he said he didn't receive any offers from other teams.

The 27-year-old said that Paul did not prioritize landing him a deal during his time with the Thunder. What's more, a three-year deal that would pay him between $7 and $10 million annually with OKC that he was told was in the works by Lucas Newton of Klutch never came.

Notably, Noel said he heard from then-Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown and representatives of the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers that they were never able to get in contact with Paul despite being interested in Noel as a player.

Noel ended his relationship with Klutch in December 2020 and said the agency focuses on headlining clients such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Simmons, Trae Young and Draymond Green at the expense of others.

He has since re-signed with the New York Knicks on a three-year, $32 million deal that was negotiated by agent George Langberg.

Paul is one of the most widely recognized agents in sports at this point and has been the subject of multiple lengthy profile pieces that often highlight his relationship with James. Being the agent of one of the best basketball players in league history will certainly garner attention, but he has transformed Klutch Sports into more than just an extension of LeBron.

As for Noel, he helped lead the Knicks to the playoffs last season by averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. While he never landed that max contract, he earned his latest deal in large part because of his interior defense. Opponents shot 10.6 percent worse than their normal averages within six feet of the basket last season, per NBA.com.

He and the Knicks start the 2021-22 season on Oct. 20 against the Boston Celtics.

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