For years it's been a public secret that LeBron's relationship with Klutch Sports is murky at best, despite the NBA investigating the situation and finding no forbidden activities. For years, Klutch has done things their way, preaching player empowerment. Whenever they got criticized, they said it was jealous competition struggling to accept the game has changed and implied there are racial overtones in the criticism.
A bit less than a year ago, the Athletic had an NBA agent survey and one of the questions they had was "LeBron James. Thoughts?" The first few answers gave credit to LeBron for his on and off-court achievements, but phrases like "overchoreographed public image" and "an insatiable ego" were used. This was just the intro - then the Klutch part started. Multiple agents unloaded on Rich Paul and his operation. As much as I hate the word, Klutch truly are disruptors. That disruption can be positive or negative, your mileage can vary, but one thing is for sure - the old guard never likes disruption. You may decide a lot of it was jealousy and the competition hating on Klutch because of their success. Amongst all the comments, there was a throughline that can be summed up with - "there's no way they can handle the workload they have." Here are a few excerpts.
Now I know it’s this façade that it’s Rich Paul, but it’s really LeBron who recruits for Rich Paul. ... So, the fact that LeBron recruits and has empowered Rich Paul, and I get it, on the top guys, but if someone does their research, a lot of these guys have really gotten screwed, a large number of them, by mismanagement.
There’s at least five or six massive casualties. Nobody is saying anything and you can even say that the union should take some responsibility because they represent all of the players, not just LeBron James. Because this is anonymous. I hope you have the courage to put this out there, because nobody is talking about this but this is the reality, and if you ask any other agent what I just said, they would all agree.
Nerlens Noel. There are four or five of them that have suffered millions of dollars from mismanagement but nobody has the courage to support it, because all the media wants access to LeBron. They want access to AD.
Because you can’t have this level of expectation for a client and service all of these guys. Ben Simmons. Garland. I know this as an agent, you can’t service them all at this level. You can seduce them, but you can’t service them all, at that level with what they say they’re doing. Nerlens Noel. Norris Cole. Shabazz Muhammed. They lost $80 million in Detroit. This is real talk.
That’s the only disappointment is LeBron has leveraged his popularity with young players for seducing them for Klutch and it’s not serving all the players well. But for the players that are suffering, there’s no repercussions. Nobody is criticizing what they’re doing. And you have to call out the union. They should be meeting with Rich Paul, saying, ‘What happened here? What happened here? They represent all the players. They all pay the same amount for dues. If Rich Paul were a lawyer, he’d be disbarred five times. But because LeBron is so powerful, there is no accountability. And that’s the only bad part with LeBron. Everything else is great. It’s commendable. It’s progressive. I love it. The part that he’s pushed Rich Paul in this position and these naïve basketball players, that’s pretty egregiously irresponsible.
Nerlens Noel agrees. According to Sports Agent Blog, Noel filed a lawsuit against Rich Paul and Klutch for $58 million in lost earnings. Noel claims Paul convinced him to leave his then-agent Happy Walters during a dinner at Ben Simmons' house. Paul and Noel were sitting next to each other, and, according to Noel, Paul told him he “was a 100 million man” and that Paul could get Noel a max deal if he terminated his relationship with Walters. As we all know, that didn't happen, and Noel played on minimum deals for the next few years.
The article explains how Noel later learned that several teams inquired about him to Klutch but never got a response, for instance, the 76ers. When he told the agency he was planning to leave, Noel was told they were working on an extension with the Thunder for 3 years, between $7 and $10 million per year. Free agency started, and nothing happened.
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.
In December 2020, Noel terminated his relationship with Klutch and has now filed a lawsuit. Since this news broke, a report has come out that Noel filed the lawsuit in response to Klutch filing a grievance with the National Basketball Players Association, claiming Noel hadn't paid $200,000 in commission on his previous one-year contract with the Knicks, according to ESPN.
In addition to previously mentioned Norris Cole and Shabazz Muhammed, the most famous Klutch case so far was the one of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP rejected a 5-year, $80 million offer from the Pistons, obviously expecting more from the market, with reports were saying the offer "wasn't even close" to his expectations. Once he became a free agent, the Lakers signed KCP to a one-year $18 million contract that everyone raised an eyebrow about.
There was no competition for his services, yet the Lakers gave him $18 million? At that time, LeBron James was in Cleveland, and this move was instantly labeled as scoring points with LeBron. I know what you're thinking, "But LeBron has nothing to do with Klutch, the NBA said it's OK." Funny how everyone that follows the NBA thought helping out Klutch would get you in LeBron's good graces.
We'll follow the court case, but more importantly, if this has an impact on Klutch's reputation around the league. If more non-superstar players come out and voice their displeasure, it could lead to interesting stories about the most talked-about public secret in the NBA. Stay tuned.