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Knicks’ Nerlens Noel sues NBA agent Rich Paul, alleging ‘indifference’ cost him millions

Nerlens Noel turned down a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavericks in 2017 and ended up making approximately $12 million instead over the next four seasons. (Elsa/Getty Images)
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New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel filed a lawsuit Monday against prominent NBA agent Rich Paul and his firm, Klutch, alleging negligent treatment when he was a client that ended up costing him $58 million.

The legal action comes in response, according to ESPN, to a grievance filed by Klutch with the NBA Players Association that claimed Noel owes the agency $200,000 for a one-year contract he signed with the Knicks in 2020.

Paul and Klutch parted ways in December with Noel, who changed his representation to George Langberg of GSL and re-signed with New York earlier this month on a three-year deal reportedly worth $32 million.

Paul is the agent of LeBron James as well as a close friend of the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar, and Klutch reportedly was heavily involved in steering Anthony Davis out of New Orleans and to James’s Lakers in a 2019 trade from the Pelicans. As noted in Noel’s court filing, other NBA players Paul represents include the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, the Houston Rockets’ John Wall and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons.

In the lawsuit, filed in Dallas County, Noel claimed that Paul talked him out of signing a four-year, $70 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2017. Instead, Noel agreed to a one-year, $4.2 million qualifying offer from the Mavs with an eye toward a bigger payday the following offseason.

However, when his 2017-18 campaign was marred because of a thumb injury, “Paul began to lose interest in Noel as client,” the lawsuit stated. That began a multiyear cycle in which Noel, he claimed, was largely ignored by Paul and misled by other Klutch officials when he initially expressed his displeasure with the agency and mused about leaving.

“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 long-term contract or even significant contract for the following season,” claimed the lawsuit. “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.”

Eventually recruited to the Oklahoma City Thunder by its then-stars, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Noel agreed to a two-year, $3.75 million deal with a player opt-out that would let him test the market again the following offseason. When that summer came about, a “false” rumor that Noel was going back Oklahoma City on a three-year contract — which the lawsuit suggested may have come from Klutch — was blamed for keeping other teams from making offers.

“As result of Paul’s failures as an agent and refusal to do any work on Noel’s behalf,” the lawsuit stated, “Noel was forced to sign yet another one-year league minimum contract with Oklahoma City.” That contract paid the former Kentucky star approximately $1.9 million, and adding in his ensuing one-year pact with the Knicks — an agreement in which Paul was said to have “played virtually no role” — Noel earned around $12 million for four seasons rather than the $70 million he could have received from Dallas.

When the Mavericks made that offer, Noel was being represented by agent Albert “Happy” Chandler. Noel described in the lawsuit a birthday party for Simmons he attended in which Paul told the Dallas center he could make him a “100 million man” with a maximum deal. Upon Paul’s urging, per the filing, Noel fired Chandler and cut off negotiations with the Mavericks.

Klutch declined to comment on the lawsuit, which also alleged that the agent did not take or return calls from teams interested in Noel, including the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom the center started his career. Noel asserted he learned that from former 76ers coach Brett Brown.

The actions, or lack thereof, by Paul and Klutch amounted to a “breach of the various fiduciary duties owed Noel,” according to the suit. It added, “Further, Paul and Klutch Sports acted with conscious indifference to Noel’s rights through the behavior and acts described herein which constituted fraud, malice or gross negligence.”

Another center for the Knicks, Mitchell Robinson, also parted ways with Klutch in December. Robinson told the New York Post at the time that his issues with the agency resulted from unspecified “personal stuff.”

Noel’s lawsuit said the last straw came when he learned that Paul “had history of mismanaging and ignoring other clients and costing them significant money.” The agent and Klutch were accused of being “only focused on serving their ‘marquee’ clients.”

The legal action is seeking damages from a trial that could equal or exceed the $58 million Noel said Paul’s mismanagement cost him.

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