Nerlens Noel suing agent Rich Paul

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Nerlens Noel reportedly rejected a four-year, $70 million contract from the Mavericks in 2017.

Instead, he signed his qualifying offer with Dallas, followed by a couple of minimum contracts with the Thunder then a modest deal with the Knicks. Noel’s combined salary over those next four years: $12,973,622

Now, Noel is suing agent Rich Paul – best known for his close ties with LeBron James – and Klutch Sports Group, reports Darren Heitner of Sports Agent Blog.

Though Happy Walters initially represented him during 2017 restricted free agency, Noel fired Walters and hired Paul. Noel’s grievances date back to that offseason – and extend the ensuing years.

Per the lawsuit:

Around this same time, during the summer of 2017, Noel was working out and training with fellow NBA players in California. One of those players was Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. In July 2017, Noel attended Ben Simmons’ birthday party in Los Angeles. During the dinner for the party, Noel was seated next to Defendant Paul, who was Simmons’ agent at the time.

Paul Recruits Noel — A Fiduciary Relationship is Formed

During the aforementioned party for Ben Simmons, Paul made a pitch to become Noel’s agent. Paul represented to Noel that he “was a 100 million man” and that he would get him a max deal. Paul told Noel that if he terminated his relationship with Mr. Walters and signed with him instead, Paul would get him that “max deal. As part of this, Paul advised Noel that he should cease negotiations with Dallas, accept the single year qualifying offer, and seek a max deal on the

free agent market the following season.

Ultimately, at the behest of Paul, Noel terminated his agency relationship with Happy Walters and officially entered into a contract with Paul on August 21, 2017.

Following the 2017/2018 season, 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. 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.

Nonetheless, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, then of the Oklahoma City Thunder, recruited Noel to come join them and play for the Thunder.

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. Most people in the league believed that Noel was set to sign a multi-year deal with value much higher than the league minimum given his production in Oklahoma City in that past season.

It was around this time, in and around the end of June 2019, that rumors were circulating in NBA circles that Noel was set to sign a three-year deal with the Thunder. Veteran NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski even tweeted as much on June 30, 2019. On information and belief, these rumors — which turned out to be false — were circulated by either Paul, someone from Klutch Sports, or someone within the Oklahoma City organization. As a result of the rumors, on information and belief, teams began shying away from putting offers together to try and sign Noel.

The free agency season began July 1, 2019. Because Paul and Klutch Sports failed to do any work on Noel’s behalf in the previous year, and because teams may have believed Noel was going to sign a multi-year deal with Oklahoma City, no offers came from other teams. As a result of Paul’s failures as an agent and refusal to do any work on Noel’s behalf, Noel was forced to sign yet another one-year league minimum contract with Oklahoma City for the 2019/2020 season

Noel learned from his former coach with the 76ers, Brett Brown, who was still with the 76ers, that the 76ers front office had been trying to contact Paul to discuss the possibility of signing Noel to a contract where he would return to the 76ers. However, Paul did not take and/or return any of the calls from the 76ers. Noel also learned that Paul was not returning or taking calls from other team representatives who were interested in signing Noel for their respective teams.

Once again, during the 2019-2020 season, neither Paul nor Klutch Sports were doing any work on Noel’s behalf. Concerned about the lack of effort or results, Noel contemplated terminating his relationship with Paul sometime in January 2020. Noel expressed his concerns to Mr. Lucas Newton from Klutch Sports, and Newton informed Noel that he had been talking to Oklahoma City on his behalf and that OKC was planning on offering Noel a three-year deal for between $7 and $10 million per year. Based on this representation, Noel did not terminate his relationship with Paul.

The 2019/2020 season ended, and the free agency period began in November 2020. On the first day of the free agency period, and despite the prior representations of Mr. Newton, Noel did not hear from a single team. Noel spoke with Mr. Newton that night, and Mr. Newton advised Noel that the Oklahoma City deal was still in play and that they were just trying to move money around on the books to create cap space for the deal. However, Noel later learned that representatives from the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers were trying to contact Paul, but that Paul was not taking or returning those calls.

On the second night of free agency, Noel’s friend and advisor, Steven Dorn, received a call from Leon Rose, who had recently been hired as President of the New York Knicks. Mr. Rose asked Dorn who was serving as Noel’s agent because he wanted to speak to them about Noel signing with the Knicks. Dorn directed Mr. Rose to Paul.

Despite signing the contract with the Knicks, which Paul played virtually no role in, Noel’s frustrations with Paul came to a tilt in December 2020 when he learned that Paul had a history of mismanaging and ignoring other clients and costing them significant money. The belief was that Paul and Klutch Sports were only focused on serving their “marquee” clients and did not have the capacity to provide competent service to other clients such as Noel, or players like Norris Cole or Shabazz Mohammad, as additional examples. Noel eventually terminated his relationship with Paul and Klutch Sports on or around December 19, 2020. Paul was replaced by George Langberg of the GSL Sports Agency.

I feel for Noel, who quietly played well in the aftermath of his large Dallas contract falling through. There are reasonable questions about how Paul prioritizes his clients.

But Noel’s filing presents only his side of the story.

Are agents liable for not meeting the grand promises they make when courting clients? If so, expect an avalanche of lawsuits throughout the industry. At a certain point, it’s on players to determine which contractual goals are realistic and which aren’t.

Perhaps, Paul truly believed Noel would come out ahead by accepting his qualifying offer then entering 2018 unrestricted free agency. However, negative reports emerged about Noel’s work ethic his last year with the Mavericks. He also got suspended for failing a drug test that year. Even sound bets don’t always hit.

Paul not returning calls from teams is the most troubling allegation. He owed Noel adequate representation and not returning calls brings that into question (if this actually happened, again we are only getting Noel’s side in the lawsuit).

However, Paul has an established track record of playing hardball. It has worked for many clients. Though it looks ugly when the strategy backfires, unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a bigger contract probably won’t have him losing a lawsuit.

Likewise, if Paul planted rumors about Oklahoma City re-signing Noel to a three-year deal in 2019, the agent might have been trying to drum up interest in Noel – not cool the market. (If the Thunder planted the rumors, they might have been trying to cool the market, but they are not a defendant in this lawsuit.) For what it’s worth, no Wojnarowski tweet is currently up about Noel signing a three-year contract with Oklahoma City in 2019, though he did chronicle some saga with Noel’s free agency:

Noel finally got a larger deal this summer – $18.04 million guaranteed over two years from the Knicks.

But that’s not the $70 million he once had available, which clearly still stings.

So, Noel has filed a lawsuit that looks like an uphill battle. If nothing else, though, it provides plenty of ammunition for other agents battling Paul for clients.

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Three things to know: Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Joel Embiid returns, scores final 11 vs. Hawks in 76ers win

The 76ers went 3-1 with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left mid-foot sprain, but they are so much more a dangerous team with him.

Embiid scored the 76ers’ final 11 points of the game against the Hawks, including the go-ahead 10-foot jumper with 18.6 seconds left, to cap a 30-point night and lift the Sixers past the Hawks 104-101.

Embiid was making critical defensive plays down the stretch as well.

Embiid finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. That’s five straight 30+ point games for Embiid, who picked up right where he left off before the injury.

Well, not exactly pick up at the start as Embiid was 1-of-7 shooting to open the game, and he wasn’t the only Sixers rusty at the start. Embiid seemed focused on sharing the ball early but settled into an offensive balance as the game went on. Philly was saved by a solid defensive night.

The 76ers continue to pick up wins with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey out, which is a good sign going forward.

That’s three-straight losses for the Hawks, a loss that stings because they should have been able to dominate the shorthanded 76ers backcourt and get the win.

2) Karl-Anthony Towns goes down with concerning leg injury

Let’s hope the optimistic report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is right and this isn’t as severe as it looked. Because it looked bad.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony simply was pushing off to run back upcourt when he fell to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf.

Towns was helped back to the locker room and did not return, with the Timberwolves officially saying he was out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A calf strain would be the best possible outcome. An MRI Monday will tell us more.

Towns’ stats are down this season as he adjusts to the odd fit of playing next to Rudy Gobert, but he is still averaging 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

The Wizards got a monster night from Kristaps Porzingis — a career-high 41 points — on their way to a 142-127 victory. When Porzingis is on this Washington team is tough to beat.

3) Big shots fall at Lakers’ game

Two big shots defined the night at the crypto.com arena Monday.

First, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 with a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

The second one hurt the Lakers more. Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

The Lakers got lost in the scramble. On the initial action, Russell Westbrook doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner, which left the screen setter Myles Turner open at the top for a clean look at a 3 — but he was short and came off the front of the rim. Tyrese Haliburton out-hustled everyone to the rebound and tried to create his own shot but saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West.

The Lakers had won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule but that is about to change and over the next few weeks we will get a sense of where this 7-12 team really stands.