The NBA (and the Sixers) Have a Rich Paul Problem

NBA: JAN 31 Lakers at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 31: Los Angeles Lakers Forward LeBron James (23) talks with agent Rich Paul at halftime of a NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers on January 31, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Across NBA, GM’s quiver at the thought of getting on Rich Paul’s bad side proving that both the league and especially the Sixers have a Rich Paul Problem.

In every front office, in every city, the NBA has a clear fear of Rich Paul and that’s nothing but trouble for the future of the league. The 39-year-old had become a mogul in the sports world due to his list of star-studded clients and seemingly endless connections. Paul has ascended to the most powerful man around the NBA, sitting behind the scenes and pulling strings on more transactions than just about any other agent.

The role of a sports agent is a fascinating job. Tasked with handling contract negotiations, public relations, and finances of their professional clients, agents attempt to squeeze the most out of their client’s careers. While Rich Paul is far from the first agent to contribute to this issue, the NBA has a serious problem with the way the behind-the-scenes of a deal occur.

Star-Studded Clients

Rich Paul began his professional career by joining LeBron James‘ inner circle around the 2003 draft. Paul worked under respected agent and current member of the Knicks front office, Leon Rose, where he learned the ropes for 10 years. From here, Paul began on his own endeavor and opened his own agency, Klutch Sports. Since its start in 2013, Paul has built an impressive client list of NBA players and brokered over $1 billion in contracts.

Klutch Sports lists LeBron James, Anthony DavisZach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Tyrese Maxey, John Wall, and of course Ben Simmons as some of the players they represent. While, for the most part, Klutch Sports has shown to be an effective agency from a player’s perspective, it is also worth noting that Nerlens Noel is currently suing Rich Paul for $58 million in forfeited salary. This dates back to Noel passing up on a four-year $70, which was negotiated by his previous agent, in order to sign with Rich Paul and search for a max contract. It was also alleged that the Sixers attempted to reach out to Rich Paul to resign Noel and never heard back.

Relationship with Simmons

The relationship between Ben Simmons and Rich Paul runs fairly deep. The two were originally put in contact through their respective relationships with LeBron James, and Simmons signed with Rich Paul once he declared for the draft. After being selected with the first overall pick and earning a max contract in 2019, Simmons asserted himself as one of Paul’s top clients.

Rich Paul reportedly met with the Sixers front office at the start of this offseason to “begin evaluating the next steps in Simmons’ Sixers career,” per Woj. Despite the optimism from some, it was pretty clear this was the beginning of the end for Simmons’ time in Philly. Following the disappointing playoff exit, which forced Doc Rivers to question if Ben Simmons can be a point guard on a championship team and seemingly shattered fans’ faith in Simmons, this should have come as no surprise.

Where this becomes difficult is Simmons was stuck with little leverage in the situation. Still under contract for four more years and with his value at an all-time low, Daryl Morey and the Sixers were in no rush to move their all-star. Accepting a deal that does not move the Sixers closer to a championship would likely end all title hopes with the current core, putting the Sixers in a very difficult situation. Despite his desire to play elsewhere, the Sixers still remained in control of the situation due to Simmons’ contractual ties.

In an effort to gain some control of the situation, it was publicly stated that Ben Simmons will not report to training camp with the Sixers and intends for his time in Philly to be over. The option of bringing Simmons back with the hopes of increasing his value is now no longer on the table as Paul and Simmons are content with paying the potential fines. This is an attempt to force the Sixers’ hand in a trade and ultimately start Simmons’ career with a clean slate somewhere else.

How this Affects Tyrese Maxey’s Sixers’ Future

Even with the turmoil of the Ben Simmons situation, the Sixers have found comfort in the bright spot that is Tyrese Maxey. Since drafting him with the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft, Maxey has been everything the Sixers asked for and more. The 20-year-old possesses a relentless work ethic and seems headed toward an extremely bright future in the NBA. The problem with this is Maxey is also represented by Rich Paul, who has now expressed the desire to get both of his clients out of Philly. A package of Maxey and Simmons is certainly more attractive and easier to find suitors for. Greasing the wheels on a Simmons trade by adding Maxey would no doubt help a deal get done, but it would be a mistake for the Sixers to give up Maxey without seeing what he will develop into.

While Jason Dumas has backtracked off his initial reports to some extent, it is a slippery slope to involve one player in another’s business. There’s also the possibility that it was recanted after the negative press the move received. Paul is dealing with the same members of the Sixers organization when having discussions surrounding each client. This makes it easy to group each together, but it is extremely important to remember that each has their own individual careers that must be prioritized.

Maxey recently made waves when discussing his relationship with Ben Simmons following a summer league game. Amid reports of Ben Simmons cutting off all communication with members of the Sixers organization, Maxey mentioned that he still talks to Simmons “all the time” and referenced him as a guy he has learned from on the defensive end. It is important to note that Maxey is the most likely Sixer to cross paths with Simmons as, in addition to being teammates on the court, the pair share the same trainer and agent.

The biggest takeaway from this move from Simmons and Paul is that it immediately moves up the timeline of a potential deal. While Morey seemed content with sitting around and waiting for a star to become available, Ben Simmons was not on board with this plan. The situation will only get worse if the Sixers continue to hold onto their defensive superstar as they risk their relationship with Tyrese Maxey.

Why This is Wrong

It is extremely important to remember that agents work for the player and not the other way around. If Tyrese Maxey has the desire to take his career elsewhere, that changes things, but there have been zero indications that this is the case. Using one player’s career as a pawn to get another to their desired destination is unethical and a backwards way of thinking as an agent. Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey each have their own individual careers in the NBA to focus on, and they should be treated this way.

If this type of strongarm move occurs, it will be extremely damaging for the Sixers moving forward. Klutch Sports is here to stay, and if the bad blood continues, the Sixers risk excluding themselves from some of the top-tier NBA talents. Daryl Morey is playing a dangerous game of chicken with a guy who is arguably the most powerful man in basketball.

In the short term, there is not much that can be done from Daryl Morey’s perspective. They will be forced to accept a deal that brings back a disappointing return for a guy who was expected to become a cornerstone of the franchise. In the long term, there are some serious questions that the NBA must address. Rich Paul is far from the first to do it, but having any agent with the amount of power that Paul possesses is a problem, and the Sixers are quickly finding out why this is the case.