Thanks, Larry, for the worst season in Knicks history

Take it from a lifelong Knicks fan: This edition is the sorriest ever. And the reason is Larry Brown.

The last Knicks championship was 33 years ago ... 33 -- that was the number of Patrick Ewing's jersey and Cazzie Russell's jersey. That was six presidents ago. In the spring of 1973, the World Trade Center officially opened. The Watergate hearings had just begun.

It has been a long time between sips of champagne. This year has made it seem intolerably longer.

Before his hiring, Brown was anointed as the Socrates of the sidelines, capable of divining the inner mysteries of 12-man harmony. He said coaching the Knicks was his "dream job" and that former Knicks coach Red Holzman was once his "hero."

No rational person expected the 2006 Knicks to play at the divine level of Holzman's 1970 and 1973 championship teams. After all, six Hall of Famers emerged from those two squads.

But Brown signed for a price that could have paid for New York's previous 20 coaches combined, to navigate the Knicks' floundering ship in the direction of the team's golden age.

He has not merely failed in that effort. He has failed utterly and to a degree no one could have imagined. Worse, he has done so without dignity or grace or accountability. His performance throughout this season has been petty and mean-spirited.

Brown has employed 39 different starting lineups. No one, not even his own players, can divine his kaleidoscopic pattern of lineups and substitutions. If you can figure it out, please get in touch with me for your next assignment: to explain the sound of one-handed clapping.

New York won 33 games last season, and talk before this season centered on how Brown probably needed to add just 10 wins to get New York into a postseason tournament that welcomes more than half the teams in the league. As it turns out, he wouldn't have needed 10. But it's a moot point -- the Knicks are on pace to finish 21-61. Did the Knicks hire Brown to subtract a dozen wins?

What else has gone wrong?

Well, he has dogged Stephon Marbury, his best player, running him down in the press on a regular basis. The Marbury slamming started at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and continued last August -- just a month after Brown was hired -- when he asserted that Allan Houston was New York's "best player" last year.

Oh, really? The same Allan Houston who missed 62 games and averaged 11 points last year was better than Marbury, who played every game and posted 21 points and eight assists a night? Explain that one. Moreover, explain why you would say that aloud.

To be sure, Marbury is an easy target. His detractors rattle off his failures in Minnesota, Phoenix and New Jersey as readily as they bring up Brown's record of improving his teams.

Larry Brown has attained cult status as a thinking man's coach. He coached the 2004 Pistons to a title. He has made many teams better than he found them. The other side of bettering them is leaving them: He has coached nine ABA and NBA teams in 22 years.

But his handling of Marbury and the rest of the Knicks demonstrates his willingness to scapegoat his players. It seems that Brown believes he is responsible when his teams win, but not when they lose.

"I've made every team I ever coached better," he said. "Every one. Look, I've been coaching how many years? I never left a team in worse shape than I got it. Not one. Now think about that. Think about me and think about the guy who's talking. I never left a team in worse shape. Never asked anything of my players any different than I'm doing right now. Think about that. Think about that. So the bottom line is, I want us to rebound, defend, share the ball, play hard. That's all. If you can't do that, if that's not important enough to you, it's not on me. It's not on me."

It's not on me. It's on Marbury, the guy who leads the team in minutes, scoring, assists and steals -- one of two players in NBA history to average 20 points and eight assists for his career. (Oscar Robertson is the other.)

When teams play worse, it's not Brown's fault. He had very similar critiques of the Pistons when he coached in Detroit. For instance: "We have to play a lot harder, we have to be a lot more aggressive, we have to share the ball better, rebound the ball better. I think those are things that you talk about every game, though. I say this over and over again. I write on the board before every game, play hard, play unselfishly, play smart, try to defend and have fun."

According to Brown, he wins games but doesn't lose them.

To reinforce his points, Brown criticizes his players relentlessly, both publicly and privately.

"Never in all my years have I seen a coach run down his best player in the press like Brown," one veteran NBA writer said.

"I covered him for six years in Philadelphia and he did it all the time," said another, unsurprised at his antics this year.

To get some perspective on the Knicks' disastrous season and Brown's handling of his team, I talked to the player I consider the greatest Knick of all, Walt Frazier, a longtime color commentator for Knicks games.

What does Frazier think about Brown's tactic of playing canary to the media? Did Red Holzman settle scores in print?

"Red would get in your face," Frazier said, laughing. "But not in the press."

Bob McAdoo, now a Miami assistant coach, played for Jack Ramsay on the Buffalo Braves during 1973-76 and for Riley with two Laker title teams in 1982 and 1985. Did either of those coaches upbraid players in the press?

"Oh no," McAdoo replied. "Everything was in-house, behind closed doors. The fans never knew the inner workings of the team."

Why did those coaches hold their fire in the media?

"What good could come out of that?" McAdoo added. "Why attack your top players? They are prideful and they're not going to take an attack from anyone."

I asked Frazier more specifically about Brown's contention that Marbury is the problem.

"Stephon is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't [according to Brown]," said Frazier. "If he scores, he's selfish. If he doesn't, he's not playing up to his potential.

"They have to get along," Frazier said. "Marbury wants to win. He came up to me on the plane and pointed to my [1973 championship] ring and said, 'I want what you have.' Besides, the guy has skills; he can get to the basket against anyone."

Frazier ought to know. Consider the greatest day in team history, May 8, 1970. New York played Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers -- who had Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain -- with Reed, their center and league MVP, badly injured. Frazier filled the void, recording 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds in a 113-99 victory.

"Red always instructed us to hit the open man," Frazier said. "That night I was the open man."

This season sullies that '69-70 season and some of the other greatest memories from Knicks history -- the 1973 championship squad and its legendary team play; the overachieving '84 Knicks, led by coach Hubie Brown and superstar Bernard King; the physical, ferocious '94 squad coached by Pat Riley; and the team of seven seasons ago, which made a surprise dash to the Finals.

Across nearly 50 years, the coaches of the best Knicks teams -- Joe Lapchick, Red Holzman, Hubie Brown, Pat Riley, Jeff Van Gundy -- sucked every ounce of talent and effort from their troops. They didn't always win it all, but they emptied the tank in the attempt. When they lost, they lost without disgrace.

Even when the Knicks were truly bad, the scent of those years didn't rival the unbearable stench of this one. This season is singular, dubiously singular, in turning losing into disgraceful losing. Hello, Larry.

Kenneth Shouler is the editor of and a writer for "Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia." Send him questions or comments here.