Simmer down, Portland Trail Blazers fans. Yes, your franchise could have drafted Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden. And yes, Jeff Ma -- the math whiz behind the card-counting, casino-busting MIT blackjack team in "Bringing Down the House" reportedly had a team consulting gig in which he told the club's decision-makers to do exactly that.
Still, that's no reason to be upset.
Back when Portland was deciding to use the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft on either Oden or Durant, Ma crunched the numbers. His conclusion? "Our numbers absolutely said they should pick Durant. It wasn't even close." Score one for math: Oden has been a oft-injured non-factor, while Durant just lead Team USA to a world championship and may be the third-best player in the league, trending up. If only the Blazers had listened to their genius consultant ...
Stop right there. Read that again.
That's why you can't be mad.
Here's the thing about corporate consultants: no one listens to them. That's not their job. As anyone who has ever worked in an office can tell you, consultants are paid handsome sums of money to say the things everybody already knows but doesn't want to hear and has no intention of carrying out. Consulting advice is routinely, reflexively ignored. It generally isn't solicited for the purpose of fixing an actual problem; to the contrary, it's largely solicited for posterior-covering, because it provides the appearance of due diligence. Don't fault us. Somebody did the homework!
In Nigeria, a consultant suggested radical reform of the nation's stock market. The regulating body that hired her ignored her advice. The market collapsed. In Australia, state government disregarded consulting advice that a fire and rescue emergency paging service should be maintained at full capacity. When a series of deadly bushfires erupted last year, the paging system failed. Closer to home, partners from Arthur Andersen -- itself a consulting firm! -- ignored the advice of their own technical specialists that some of a major client's accounting practices were questionable.
The client in question? Enron.
Prior to the 1998 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers hired consultant Jonathan Niednagel to conduct a psychological evaluation of quarterback prospect Ryan Leaf. Niednagel warned that Chargers that Leaf's mental makeup made him ill-suited to be a professional quarterback; his decision-making style was too rigid. San Diego took Leaf anyway. The rest is history, and not the good kind. Unlike Leaf, Oden still has a chance to succeed. But it's looking more and more like Portland made an epochal mistake, one that could have been avoided had the club simply listened to its own paid advice. Then again, that never happens. Which is exactly why Blazers fans shouldn't be too upset.
Of course, that's just my advice.