NEW YORK (AP) – Larry Brown had an inkling way back in November that these Knicks were headed for trouble.

Too many young players. Too few who “play the right way” – Brown’s No. 1 basketball priority.

And one named Stephon Marbury.

“I kind of had a pretty good sense of where we were in Charleston,” where the Knicks hold their preseason training camp in South Carolina, Brown said recently.

Still, he basked in the roar of the Madison Square Garden crowd at the Knicks’ home opener, a Brooklyn native returned to lead his hometown team back into the playoffs. And while Brown knew something then that the fans apparently didn’t, he never could’ve predicted how bad things would get.

It didn’t take long to get started, either: Minutes after the ovation, the Knicks fell behind Washington by 19 points in the first quarter, and were booed off the floor by the home fans.

That sound became familiar on the court. Off it, things got uglier still.

A sexual harassment lawsuit brought against team president Isiah Thomas by a former employee. A biting feud between Brown and Marbury, laid bare in the New York tabloids and brought to a flimsy resolution. Then the coach admitted some of his players are no longer listening to his message.

And of course, all the losing.

A 2-12 December was followed by a 1-11 February. Rookie Channing Frye, perhaps the biggest bright spot, was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Even after three straight wins last week gave the Knicks 22 victories, this will go down as one of the worst seasons ever for both the franchise and the Hall of Fame coach. Brown will finish only slightly better than his 21-61 season in San Antonio in 1988-89.

“I was looking back on my career, I don’t know how long I’ve been doing this,” he said. “I was trying to figure out what’s been different about this year and things I said. I think one of the obvious things is I find myself repeating myself over and over again. … When we look at the films the same things keep popping up – the effort, not sharing the ball, and the same mistakes over and over again.”

And it’s not that the Knicks lack talent. Marbury, Steve Francis and Jalen Rose are among the pre-eminent names that the NBA’s biggest spenders have sent onto the floor – only to compete with second-year Charlotte and rebuilding Portland for the league’s worst record.

Boston coach Doc Rivers said one of his players looked at New York’s roster and said, “They might be the best worst team ever.”

Then Rivers’ team went out and led by as many as 38 points in a 123-98 victory.

That came during a nine-game New York losing streak – one more loss would have given the Knicks two double-digit skids in a season for the first time – which ended with Brown questioning everything from the effort of his players to his own future with the team.

During that stretch, New York trailed by 27 points at Orlando, 24 to Memphis, 25 at Minnesota, 23 at Philadelphia, and 31 at Washington.

That final one left Francis near tears and Brown wondering why a message that worked so well in seven previous NBA stops was going unheard. Brown admitted that some players were probably tuning him out, and said some would have to go before next season – unless the Knicks decided to replace him instead.

But Brown neither wants to quit, nor does he think he’ll be fired. He realizes that Thomas and owner James Dolan wouldn’t have a lot to like if they evaluated him based on the team’s performance.

“I’m not going to ask them, Are you happy with me?”‘ Brown said. “I mean, I’m not a rocket science kind of guy, but we’re bad. And that’s my responsibility, so I don’t ask.”

What Thomas thinks about Brown’s performance, or anything else, remains a mystery. Perhaps worn from the criticism he’s taken for a litany of unsuccessful moves to improve the team, he hasn’t spoken with the media since February’s trade deadline.

Despite their record, the Knicks have no hope of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft because Thomas included New York’s pick in the preseason trade to Chicago for center Eddy Curry. The Knicks do have two other picks they acquired in trades, but they will be much lower in the first round.

Thomas has said he won’t trade Frye or his other young players, but so many of the veterans have such high salaries that it’s tough for New York to make a deal unless it takes back yet another back contract – and a team with a payroll of more than $120 million already has plenty of those.

Thomas used expiring contracts to acquire Rose and Francis in separate deals this season, but neither have been very productive since the trades.

All eyes this summer will be on Marbury – just as they were from the moment Brown got the job.

Though Brown praised his point guard’s play earlier in the season, their bickering in the media last month almost seemed inevitable. Marbury’s score-first mentality is a style that Brown has never liked, going all the way back to when they were together on the U.S. Olympic team in 2004.

Their spat started when Marbury told the Star-Ledger of Newark that he should go back to playing that way next season.

When Brown pulled Marbury aside and said it was time to move past their feud, he told his point guard that he didn’t want to trade him, and Marbury says he wants to stay in New York. But Thomas will have to decide whether the pair can work together – and if not, he’ll have to start seeking takers for Marbury.

Same with Nate Robinson, who seems to be the most popular Knicks player with the Garden fans but a frequent target of Brown’s for showboating after exciting plays. Brown was quick to point out one such time that allowed Cleveland to get an easy basket during a game last week.

“That’s the hardest thing because the fans love it,” Robinson said. “They love to see the way I get fired up. … I think that Coach kind of gets tied in, or caught between me trying to showboat or trying to have all the attention on me I guess.”

Perhaps fittingly, the Knicks’ recent three-game winning streak came with Marbury and Rose nursing injuries. Brown has been pleased, meanwhile, with Jamal Crawford and the young players who are still on board with their coach’s methods.

That’s allowed Brown to end the season with perhaps a little more optimism than he had back in Charleston.

“This has been a miserable year in terms of record and stuff, but we’ve played a lot of young kids that I think are going to be much better next year,” Brown said. “I know I’m getting better as a coach and I know I want to be back. I know I want to help us turn this thing around, and I’m confident we will.”