Sports Law

Nerlens Noel Blasts NBA Agent Rich Paul In New Lawsuit

New York Knicks big man Nerlens Noel has blasted NBA agent Rich Paul in a brand new lawsuit that was initiated today in Dallas, Texas. The Complaint names both Paul and Klutch Sports Group, Paul’s sports agency, as defendants.

Paul, who represents the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Trae Young, Draymond Green, and Ben Simmons, is alleged to have interfered with Noel’s preexisting relationship with Happy Walters, who had represented Noel after he was drafted into the NBA out of the University of Kentucky in 2013. The Complaint says that Paul, knowing that Noel was represented by Walters in 2017, told Noel that he “was a 100 million man” and that Paul could get Noel a max deal if he terminated his relationship with Walters.

This all allegedly went down at Simmons’ birthday party in Los Angeles, where Paul was sitting next to Noel during the dinner portion of the event. Following the party, Noel parted ways with Walters and signed a Standard Player Agent Contract (SPAC) with Paul. Noel also purportedly took Paul’s advice and ended prior ongoing negotiations with the Dallas Mavericks that would have paid him $70 million over 4-years, in favor of accepting a single-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer with the intention of later seeking a max deal on the free agent market. Paul earned a 4% commission on the qualifying offer.

The situation became sour when Noel tore a ligament in his thumb, had surgery to repair the injury, and was forced to miss 42 games that season. According to the Complaint, Paul began to lose interest in Noel as a client.

“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,” states the Complaint. “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.”

Noel says that Paul had nothing to do with Noel then signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder and that, instead, Russell Westbrook and Paul George recruited him to join them for that franchise. Noel signed a 2-year, $3.75 million league-minimum deal with the team, and Paul was paid a 2% commission.

Paul is criticized for failing to make an effort to try to secure contracts or deals on Noel’s behalf during the 2018-19 NBA season he spent with the Thunder and thereafter. Noel declined a player option on the second year of his deal with the Thunder and instead hit the free agent market. He received no offers from any other teams and was forced to sign another one-year league minimum contract with the Thunder.

Noel allegedly learned from Brett Brown, who was coaching the Philadelphia 76ers at the time, that the 76ers front office had been trying to contact Paul to discuss a potential deal and that Paul refused to respond. This was purportedly the case with other team representatives who were reaching out as well.

Eventually, Noel says that he contemplated terminating his representation relationship with Klutch Sports; however, he was persuaded by Lucas Newton of the company that they were working on a 3-year deal with the Thunder that should compensate Noel to the tune of $7 million to $10 million annually. Thus, Noel decided to stay in place with his agency of record.

Then, free agency hit and the first day was quiet. Noel says that he later learned that representatives from the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers wanted to discuss opportunities with Paul, but that they could not make contact. Leon Rose (who was formerly an agent at Creative Artists Agency but then the President of the New York Knicks) reached out about a deal and Noel ultimately signed a 1-year contract for $5 million.

Noel finally terminated his relationship with Paul and Klutch Sports in December 2020 and says that the final straw was Noel learning that Paul “had a history of mismanaging and ignoring other clients and costing them significant money.” He believed that Paul and Klutch Sports were only focused on serving their marquee clients, and did not have the capacity to serve Noel as well as players such as Norris Cole or Shabazz Mohammad. After Noel’s first season with the Knicks, he signed a 3-year deal for roughly $32 million and was represented by basketball agent George Langberg on that contract.

Noel wants to be made whole for losing what he says is $58 million in lost earnings after being led to leave Walters and pass up an offer from the Mavericks for $70 million over 4 years. He says that Paul breached his fiduciary duty by inducing Noel to terminate his representation agreement with Walters and then by failing to do any meaningful work on Noel’s behalf in terms of securing contracts, new endorsement deals, or by offering strategies to Noel on how to maximize his value and earnings.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.