Nerlens Noel Is the Wrong Messenger

Rich Paul is feast and famine. He negotiates monster deals for unrestricted free agents. But he [steals] players from other agents. Both of those were tested in the summer of 2017 when Nerlens Noel was an unrestricted free agent. Noel’s agent at the time, Happy Walters, negotiated a $70 million dollar deal with the Mavs but shockingly Noel turned it down. He then tried to walk it back, his no thank you, and when Mark Cuban wouldn’t budge, Noel fired Walters and hired Rich Paul.

What happened next is the tail wagging the dog. Noel accepted the $4 million dollar qualifying offer, believing the summer of 2018 he’d get paid more than the $70 million. He didn’t, of course. Not even close.

Four years after the crime, Noel dropped a lawsuit on Rich Paul in which he argues a bunch of inflammatory things. First, that qualifying offer. It was forced on him by Paul who convinced Noel he’d be paid, like for real, in twelve months. Noel accuses Paul of ignoring other offers in 2017 because Paul was so focused on a possibility instead of a probability. In other words, Paul was greedy. And Noel was compliant.

As it was, Noel followed Paul’s orders and swallowed his last ounce of common sense and did the obligatory bet on himself thing. It was a disaster as a strategy because defensive role players aren’t monetized in quite the same way that offensive role players are and Noel is always getting hurt. He was in Rick Carlisle’s doghouse for not playing hard. Then, he tore a ligament in his hand.

2017-18 Points Rebounds PER Defensive Rating
Nerlens Noel 4.4 5.6 16.2 100

What Noel’s lawsuit doesn’t explain is why Nerlens Noel, an adulting man, didn’t control his career by educating himself about why players are heavily monetized even when they are not worth it. It’s not exclusively based on talent or value. Market determines price. It is not what you are worth that drives salaries into the stratosphere. It is what the league determines your value is by assessing a combination of factors: production, injuries, analytics, temperament. In other words, value is based on what the market thinks of you, the sum and not the parts. For non All-Stars, markets fluctuate and are seasonal. One summer Noel could be worth $70 million. The next summer $10 million.

His lawsuit against Paul is water running downhill because Rich Paul isn’t Noel’s guardian charged with making decisions for Noel. It is a professional relationship with fiduciary responsibilities and at any point in time, Noel can walk away. His duties within the relationship is to listen, research, evaluate, and then say yes or no.

At the time of the free agency disaster, Noel was 23 years old, a young player as far as the NBA is concerned.  But I don’t know many 23-year-olds who think $4 million is greater than $70 million. When the idea was first floated to turn the $70 million down why didn’t Noel say no. Perhaps Paul’s greed had company.

I suppose Noel sees himself as a victim and Rich Paul the big, bad wolf. The season he was to bet on himself, 2017-18, Noel was paid less than what the sixth pick in the 2017 draft lottery (Jonathan Issac) made. Then, Noel had 193 games under his belt to zero games for Issac.

Noel was the sixth pick in the 2013 draft. As for that draft. Five players have negotiated max deals. Victor Oladipo. Otto Porter. C.J. McCollum. Steven Adams. Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have played more games than Noel and scored more points. The only frontcourt player to get a huge payday, Steven Adams, has more rebounds than Noel. Four of the five players have higher win shares.

2013 Draft 2017-18 Salary Games Played Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Win Shares
Victor Oladipo #2 $21,000,000 454 103 107 24.6
Otto Porter #3 $24,773,250 441 116 108 31.1
C.J.McCollum #10 $23,962,572 528 111 113 36.7
Steven Adams #12 $22,471,910 588 119 106 49.1
Giannis Antetokounmpo #15 $22,471,910 589 115 104 74.6
Nerlens Noel
drafted 6th, $4,187,600 (2017-18),  425 games, offensive rating 109, defensive rating 101, win shares  26.8

For the sake of argument let’s take Noel’s side; Paul didn’t bring him offers because he was greedier than Noel. He was banking on the future. Why did it take Noel this long to come to Jesus. To see that Paul overpromised and underdelivered?

For the record. It was always going to be a zero-sum game because Noel is a player who has only played 70 games twice (in eight seasons.) He’s not a scorer and the last time he averaged 8 rebounds was six years ago. He’s a valuable role player but he’s only taken 10 threes in eight years; he doesn’t stretch the floor. He’ll never be an All-Star. By virtue of his lawsuit, he is saying he was taken advantage of or lied to. But this is what bothers me in all of this. All Noel had to do was say yes to the $70 million.

Agents are in the predicting business and yet nothing is a sure thing. Markets and situations change. Often, markets shrink on players. Dennis Schröder is a perfect example of that. A max payday suddenly became crumbs from the Celtics. The Lakers offered Schröder similar Noel money but he too got greedy.

The lawsuit is basically saying that Rich Paul is unethical. But agents are paid when players are paid. They want more just like players want more. A greedy Paul appropriately took advantage of a greedy Noel. When the market collapsed and Noel was injured and when Paul couldn’t deliver, it was business as usual. Not show friends. Just show business. For Noel, it’s been nick and tuck ever since as he traverses the NBA minimum or slightly more. This season he is making $5 million. Then $17 million combined the next two seasons.

While the lawsuit is a back and forth with Paul- Paul filed a grievance against Noel and Noel countered with the lawsuit- Nerlens Noel is addressing a problem that needs to be remedied by the Players Association, In essence, how agents backstab each other with promises that may go unfulfilled; it is a dangerous zero-sum game. Had something been in place, Paul would have broken a rule and been punished or would have had to pay compensation. With no such rule in place, Paul was being a capitalist and a hustler and Nerlens Noel was trusting. And naive. That wins you zero dollars in court and gets you mocked on social media for not knowing better.