The Knicks were more than watchable in 2012-2013. Carmelo Anthony scored as he does; J.R. Smith shot his way to Sixth Man of the Year; Tyson Chandler held down the paint; and a couple pieces of the early-aughts Nets washed ashore. It was a charming team that over-performed in the first and last chunks of the season and came out with 54 wins, plus a second-round exit. Set aside the few weeks where Kristaps Porzingis successfully concealed the fact that he is made of processed Alaskan pollock, and that season was the last time a Knicks fan felt anything resembling joy.
That success must have been team owner James Dolan’s cue to bring in an outside consulting firm; he did so in 2013 to “reprocess” the team and return them to their rightful dysfunction. Ian Begley at SNY laid out the bizarre influence of McKinsey & Company on the basketball team, from the perspective of then-assistant coach Dave Hopla.
At one point, the consulting firm advised that Knicks coaches not watch film with players, one of the primary things that coaches do:
“The players were like, ‘Why aren’t we watching film?’ (We said), ‘the McKinsey group told us,’” Hopla recalled.
The firm also asked the coaching staff to file time-consuming written reports on each player’s performance after each practice. “I told them if we took all that time writing reports and we actually worked the players out, we would have made the playoffs,” Hopla said.
The consultants showed up at games and practices and, hilariously, their presence spooked the players:
Members of the consulting firm attended practices and games at home and on the road, which, according to Hopla, led to concerns from the players.
“The players started asking who they were,” Hopla said. “…. They were worried about maybe they were writing reports about them. They were paranoid.”
Hopla questioned why a firm without significant experience in pro basketball was allowed to influence how Knicks coaches approached aspects of their jobs.
If there’s anything a Dolan-owned team needs, it’s less attention to X’s and O’s, more distracted coaches, and more ambient paranoia. The Knicks won 35 games the following season and have deserved relegation ever since. Meanwhile, McKinsey has continued to serve a wide range of clients, including several other authoritarian regimes, and also the 2017-2018 Houston Astros. The consultants were admittedly put in a tough spot. What do you do when the clearest and most potent advice for improving a team’s performance is to tell the guy paying you to sell said team and never again associate with it in any way? But I am charmed by the image of some 28-year-old in slacks observing, having thoughts about, and attempting to construct a “model” around Pablo Prigioni’s rookie season. I did all that, too, and couldn’t even expense dinner.