If we assume that a healthy Nerlens Noel goes first or second in an historically thin NBA draft, he lost somewhere between $4 million and $5 million over the next three years—all because he vaporized his knee in February while playing amateur basketball as a nominally unpaid intern at Kentucky.
According to the NBA's rookie salary scale, Noel would have been owed an average of $4.6 million per year over the next three seasons if he had been drafted No. 1 overall, and about $4.1 million per year if he had been taken at the No. 2 spot. But Noel fell to the sixth spot in the draft, and he's set to make around $2.7 per year during his first three seasons in the league.
Why the drop? Well, There are the usual stupid whispers about Noel's associates. Or, as ESPN put it, with mystifying scare quotes, "There were concerns with the 'people' he chose to surround himself." (That's right. Not actual people. Humanoids and maybe cyborgs, too. Nerlens Noel is hanging out with the T-1000, a fleet of Daleks, and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.)
But it was almost certainly the injury, a torn ACL, that sandbagged Noel. "The knee looks bad," an anonymous executive told ESPN.
But don't worry about Nerlens! says ESPN. This may in fact be a blessing wearing the disguise of a shitty thing that just cost him millions of dollars:
The fall certainly cost Noel a few bucks in his first contract, but the second deal is the one that truly matters. Now Noel has a chance to be far more marketable in a city like Philadelphia than in Cleveland. He'll also come in with a chip on his shoulder again, similar to when he arrived at Kentucky a year ago with no shortage of skeptics.
Noel will walk into Philadelphia as just another draftee, while Bennett will have the weight of No. 1 pick when he arrives in Cleveland. There's a certain expectation that comes with being picked first overall, and some just aren't equipped to handle it.
You might think that open collusion between a profit-maximizing entity and a talent-horny, tax-exempt moral abomination whereby a talented basketball player is required to spend a year in semi-professional limbo (during which he might just blow up his knee and cost himself millions of dollars) is a bad thing. But really, the NBA and the NCAA were just doing the kid a solid. Say thank you, Nerlens!