In an organizational move that seems less significant but no less inexplicable than others, it has been announced that Scott O'Neil will step down from his position at Madison Square Garden. Frank Isola broke the news, then both MSG and O'Neil released statements confirming the move. O'Neil was president of all MSG sports and was primarily at the forefront of sales and management type stuff, organizing brand partnerships and whatnot for the Knicks, Rangers, Liberty, and other occupants. What makes O'Neil's departure noteworthy is that his role had recently developed into much more than that.
Over the last few years, O'Neil's name began to show up in reports regarding the Knicks' basketball operations. In 2010, when New York wanted a second meeting with the representation of then-free agent LeBron James, Dolan sent O'Neil with Glen Grunwald to talk to James's agent. Later, his close ties to Creative Artists Agency reportedly helped to facilitate New York's hiring of CAA client Mark Warkentien and their trade for CAA client Carmelo Anthony. Grunwald, not O'Neil, took Donnie Walsh's position when he left, but the fact that O'Neil — a business guy, not a basketball guy — was even considered speaks to his prominence within Dolan's organization.
So, uh, this is curious. First, let us not rule out the possibility that O'Neil just feels like doing a different job or wants time to focus on his apiary or something. Now that we've not ruled that out, let us revert to assuming that all matters pertaining to the Knicks tend toward thorny complexity over benign simplicity. Given the growing presence and apparent influence CAA has on the team, why and under what circumstances is a rising star within the organization and, evidently, a crucial bridge to their pet agency leaving? These are the Knicks, so we'll probably never know because they'll definitely never tell us. It's just that, with the nebulously nefarious 'Melo stuff, the nebulously nefarious negotiations with Mike Woodson, and the rumors about the nebulously nefarious circumstances surrounding Jeremy Lin's exit, there's been a growing wariness that the agency might be pulling a lot of strings within the organization — some big, evil basketball conspiracy. Now, a man reputed to be one of the chief architects of that relationship is bailing before the product of his efforts even takes the court.
Is O'Neil, as Frank Isola suggests, just fed up with the behavior of owner James Dolan like everybody else who ever worked for Dolan? If so, and if our suspicions about MSG's relationship with CAA are even remotely accurate, then it would seem that Dolan can't even execute a big, evil basketball conspiracy properly, which ... actually, that sounds about right.