Nerlens Noel proved to be a valuable piece to the New York Knicks last season, especially after starting center Mitchell Robinson went down with two significant injuries.
The Knicks went 25-16 when Noel took over the starting spot over the injured Robinson. Noel’s career-best 2.2 blocks per game anchored the team’s defense which boasted the league’s best rim protection (60.5 percent in opponent’s rim field goals) that helped them made the playoffs for the first time in eight years. He added 5.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24.2 minutes, his most playing time since his sophomore year.
Noel’s efforts got rewarded with the biggest contract yet of his career – a partially guaranteed three-year, $32 million deal to remain with the Knicks. But that contract pales in comparison to what Noel could have earned back in 2017 free agency.
Noel, then a restricted free agent, turned down a $70 million, four-year extension offer from the Dallas Mavericks after super-agent Rich Paul allegedly told him that he was “a $100 million man” during Ben Simmon’s birthday party in 2017. He claimed that Paul induced him to sign the one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer instead and seek the max contract in 2018 free agency.
Noel’s 2017 fumble remains one of the league’s cautionary tales, and it is the bone of contention in a messy legal battle between the Knicks center and Paul.
The decision to reject the Mavericks’ $70 million offer “placed Noel at serious professional and financial risk,” claimed the 2017 cease and desist letter issued by the legal counsel of Happy Walters, Noel’s previous agent, to Paul and Klutch Sports.
The letter claimed that it was contrary to Walters’ advice alleging that Paul’s motivation was the desire to collect lucrative commissions from a future deal.
It was one of the salacious details of the amended lawsuit Noel filed against his former agent. The move was in response to Paul filing a grievance to the National Basketball Players Association claiming that Noel failed to pay him $200,000 in commission from his previous one-year, $5 million deal with the Knicks in 2019.Â
Noel said in the lawsuit that Paul virtually played no role; hence he is not entitled to his commission. Noel claimed that on the second night of the 2020 free agency, Leon Rose, the Knicks president, called Steven Dorn, Noel’s friend, and adviser. Rose asked Dorn who was Noel’s agent as the Knicks were interested in signing him. Dorn directed Rose to Paul and eventually agreed on the one-year deal that proved to be a smart move that led to his current multi-year contract.
Noel is seeking financial damages after losing $58 million in total salaries between 2017 and 2020, allegedly due to Paul’s lousy advice and gross negligence as his agent. In the lawsuit, Noel claimed that Paul and Klutch Sports have a history of mismanaging and ignoring smaller clients and are only focused on their marquee names citing Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammad as examples.
Cole had an $8.4 million career earnings in six seasons, while Muhammad collected around $10.5 million in five seasons in the league.
Noel claimed that Paul started to sour on him when he suffered a thumb injury that limited him to a career-low 4.4 points in 30 games during his second season with the Mavericks.
Noel said he entered the free agency with Klutch Sports failing to provide any plan or strategy. He was left with no choice but to sign a two-year minimum deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The former lottery pick claimed that Paul allegedly ignored calls from other teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers (which he learned from his former coach Brett Brown) in 2019 and the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets in 2020.
In 2019 free agency, the 76ers traded for Al Horford and gave him a partially guaranteed four-year, $109 million deal. They also signed veteran center Kyle O’Quinn to a one-year minimum deal.
Noel signed another minimum deal with the Thunder.
In 2020 free agency, the Clippers signed Serge Ibaka to a two-year, $19 million deal while the Rockets added DeMarcus Cousins for the $2.6 million veteran minimum deal.
The Knicks snagged Noel for a $5 million deal which proved to be a bargain for what he provided last season.
If Noel had stayed with Walters, he would have accepted the Mavericks’ $70 million offer in 2017 and formed an interesting frontcourt tandem with former Knick Kristaps Porzingis. But Paul’s alleged poaching and misrepresentation somehow steered him towards the Knicks. And Noel’s misfortunes finally ended in New York.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo