How Knicks may factor in to Nerlens Noel's lawsuit against Rich Paul

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Knicks' Nerlens Noel treated image, white jersey with orange X behind head
Knicks' Nerlens Noel treated image, white jersey with orange X behind head

Earlier this month, attorneys for Nerlens Noel filed an amendment to their lawsuit against agent Rich Paul and Paul’s firm, Klutch Sports.

The amended claim, which was filed after Paul and Klutch submitted a grievance against Noel with the NBPA, includes the following:

1. A 2017 letter from a former agent of Noel’s addressed to Paul and Klutch Sports. The letter, written by an attorney representing former agent Happy Walters, states that Walters secured a four-year, $70 million offer for Noel from the Dallas Mavericks in the 2017 offseason.

At the time, Noel was a restricted free agent.

According to the letter in the amended complaint, Walters’ agency believed that Paul and/or Klutch induced Noel to do the following:

- Reject the $70 million offer from Dallas

- Terminate his relationship with Walters

- Hire Paul

- Accept a $4.1 million qualifying offer for the 2017-18 season.

How did Paul/Klutch allegedly accomplish that?

“We believe that we can establish that Mr. Noel was induced to terminate his contractual relationship with our clients because you impermissibly advised him that you would be able to produce better results for him than could his existing agent,” the letter from Walters' attorney states, noting that such actions are against NBPA poaching rules.

Noel terminated his relationship with Walters and decided to sign with Paul, one of the NBA’s top agents, in August 2017. Noel then accepted the Mavs’ qualifying offer for 2017-18. It is unknown if Dallas’ offer to Noel was still on the table when he signed with Paul.

The amended complaint was filed roughly three weeks after Klutch/Paul submitted a grievance with the NBPA that claimed Noel hadn't paid $200,000 in commission on his 2020-21 contract. It is unclear if the NBPA has ruled on Paul’s grievance with Noel.

The big pay day for Noel in 2018 never arrived.

After missing 42 games due to injury in 2017-18, Noel didn’t receive a significant offer from Dallas – or other teams – in the 2018 offseason.

He played on contracts for the veteran’s minimum – or slightly above – for the next three seasons.

Noel’s suit claims that he lost $58 million in potential salary while he was represented by Paul from 2017 to 2020. It also notes that Paul/Klutch received the commission for Noel’s 2017-18 contract; Paul was the agent of record for Noel in August 2017 when he signed the contract.

Noel’s relationship with Paul and Klutch was terminated in December 2020.

Feb 17, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel (3) makes a basket over Orlando Magic center Khem Birch (24) during the first quarter at Amway Center.
Feb 17, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel (3) makes a basket over Orlando Magic center Khem Birch (24) during the first quarter at Amway Center.

Following a strong 2020-21 season with the Knicks, Noel signed a three-year, $32 million contract to remain in New York.

It is unclear if Noel’s suit against Paul, which was filed in Texas, will advance to trial.

Amid the pending litigation, it’s been business as usual for Klutch Sports and Paul.

Shortly after the suit was filed, Zach LaVine – one of the top free agents in the 2022 class – signed with Paul and Klutch Sports. Klutch Sports also negotiated an extension worth roughly $92 million over four years for Aaron Gordon, a player who averaged 12.4 points per game last season.

In addition to the details above, there are several other issues alleged in Noel’s complaint:

The complaint claims that the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers had interest in signing Noel as a free agent in recent offseasons. But Noel, allegedly, was unaware of the interest because Paul didn’t return calls from those teams.

The suit alleges that former Sixers coach Brett Brown informed Noel of Philadelphia’s interest.

If Brown agrees to provide his version of events on the record, it could have a significant impact on the case.

The suit also alleges Paul "played virtually no role" in Noel signing with the Knicks in the 2020 offseason. The complaint alleges that Knicks team president Leon Rose reached out to Noel’s friend and advisor, Steven Dorn, on the second night of free agency in 2020 to find out which agent was representing Noel.

The anecdote is included to support the claim that Paul played "virtually no role" in Noel’s contract with the Knicks, which was for $5 million over one season.

If the case goes to trial, this issue could be something explored by the court; Rose and the Knicks may be asked to provide their version of events.

A judge hearing the case may also wonder why Noel waited until 2021 to file suit against Paul if the most significant alleged salary mismanagement occurred in 2017. Noel stayed with Klutch for his next three contracts.

In the complaint, Noel alleges that Paul and Klutch advised him on several occasions that teams were interested in signing him as a free agent. Noel alleges that in early 2020, he was told that the Oklahoma City Thunder planned on offering him a three-year deal worth between $7 million and $10 million per year. “Based on this representation, Noel did not terminate his relationship with Paul,” the suit says.

The veracity of this offer couldn’t be independently confirmed. But it’s worth noting that the Thunder seemed averse to spending any long-term money once they traded Chris Paul in the 2020 offseason. Leading up to the trade, it seemed as if the Thunder were committed to a long-term rebuild.