Knicks center Nerlens Noel is suing former agent Rich Paul for $58 million in lost contract money, according to court filings obtained by Sports Agent Blog.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Dallas, claims advice Noel received from Paul caused him to reject a reported four-year, $70 million contract the Mavericks were offering the center in 2017. The Knicks center also claims Paul — who represents such NBA megastars as LeBron James, Trae Young and Anthony Davis — failed in his fiduciary duties as Noel’s agent, ignoring securing deals and outright ignoring teams’ interest in his client.
Noel hired Paul in 2017, then fired him in 2020.
The lawsuit claims Noel first met Paul at Ben Simmons’ birthday party in July 2017; Noel was at the time represented by Happy Walters, his agent since he went No. 6 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. At that point in time he had averaged 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game across three NBA seasons with the 76ers and Mavericks, who traded for him in February 2017.
The lawsuit alleges Noel told Ben Simmons he was a “$100 million man” and that he could get him a max deal if he ended his relationship with Walters. Noel took Paul up on his offer, signing to Klutch Sports. Noel claims Paul told him to reject the Mavs’ four-year, $70 million contract offer and instead sign a one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer to become a free agent the following summer.
However, Noel tore a ligament in his thumb that season, playing only 30 games and averaging 4.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and a steal a game in limited action. It was at that point, Noel claims, that Paul began losing interest in him as a client. He hit unrestricted free agency in 2018, as expected, but saw that Paul had not presented any offers or strategies.
Noel claims he was then recruited to play for the Thunder by Paul George and Russell Westbrook; he signed the league minimum deal for two years and $3.75 million, averaging 4.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Noel claims Paul had no hand in getting him to Oklahoma City, yet still claimed a 2 percent commission as his agent.
The lawsuit states that neither Paul nor Klutch Sports worked on securing deals for him during the regular season; after declining the second-year option (again at Paul’s suggestion), Noel said he entered free agency with no deals in place.
Per the lawsuit:
“During and after the 2018-2019 season, neither Paul nor Klutch Sports made any effort to try and secure contracts or deals on Noel’s behalf. There was absolutely no mention of a strategy to try and generate interest from teams and/or potential new endorsement deals. After the season, at the advice of Paul, Noel declined his player option for Year Two, once again hitting the free agent market.”
That, Noel said, forced him into another league minimum deal, this one for a year, with OKC.
It was during that time that Noel learned from his former coach in Philadelphia, Brett Brown, that the 76ers had attempted to contact Paul about signing Noel, but that the agent had not returned their calls. Noel said he learned of similar instances from other teams during this time.
Noel said he considered dropping Paul as an agent in 2020, but was persuaded not to by Klutch Sports agent Lucas Newton, who said the Thunder were working on a three-year contract worth $7-10 million per year; when the offer did not come, Newton reportedly told him the team was moving money around on the books to make it happen. During this time, Noel said he learned that Paul had not returned calls from the Rockets or Clippers.
Noel eventually signed with the Knicks following the 2019-20 season. That said, he only knew of New York’s interest in him after Knicks president Leon Rose contacted his friend and adviser Steve Dorn to set up a call with Paul. Noel finally dropped the agent and Klutch Sports in December 2020 after learning the agency had similarly mismanaged Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammed: players who lack the star power of LeBron, Young and others.
Following his one-year deal with the Knicks, Noel — in his first free agency period without Paul as his agent — signed a three-year, $32 million contract. Considering the 2017 Mavericks contract Paul reportedly instructed Noel to decline, and taking into account the subsequent league minimum contracts he signed, Noel assessed Paul cost him $58 million in lost contract money.