Larry Brown would give up the PIN number for his bank card before he reveals the names of the five Knicks who will start the season-opener a week from tomorrow in Boston.
What Brown is prepared to disclose, however, are the names of starting five he had in mind when he was hired last July. For what it's worth, Jerome James, Michael Sweetney, Tim Thomas, Quentin Richardson "and probably Stephon" (Marbury) seemed to make the most sense to Brown a few months ago.

But that was before trades, injuries and the head coach's right to change his mind factored into the equation. Now, Brown either doesn't know or isn't telling.

"I'm not even worried about it right now," Brown said following yesterday's two-hour practice in Tarrytown. "I don't know who we'll have. I told you, it's ridiculous to get hung up on what is going to happen in the beginning."

For two seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Brown's lineup was set with Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace.

In New York, there aren't many simple answers, although Marbury is a mortal lock even if Brown won't confirm it. In five preseason games, Brown has used five different starting lineups and has started 11 different players. When Marbury was asked to solve the mystery of the unknown five, the point guard replied: "I don't have any idea."

In all likelihood, Jamal Crawford, who has started four games in the preseason, will open at shooting guard. Eddy Curry is working his way back into shape and should start at center. Malik Rose is now the subject of trade rumors, but unless Rose is dealt within the next eight days, his experience should give him the edge over Brown favorite Antonio Davis as well as rookies Channing Frye and David Lee.

The identity of the starting small forward remains unknown, even though 20-year-old Trevor Ariza is starting to endear himself to the coach while Richardson continues to be sidelined with a strained left hamstring.

The idea behind acquiring Richardson over the summer from Phoenix was finding a suitable replacement for Allan Houston. And in many ways Richardson is filling the role of a wallflower quite well. Getting him on the court is another story.

"I haven't seen him," Brown said. "I can't think (being out) helped him. It would be nicer if he was there but look at all the time Trevor has gotten to play and look at how much better he's gotten. In some ways it's been a blessing."

Richardson missed several days in Charleston, S.C., with a sore hamstring, played in the first two preseason games and has been out ever since. There's a possibility that Richardson, who will not play tonight in Philadelphia, may not be ready by Nov. 2.

"I'm definitely aiming for it," Richardson said yesterday.

If Richardson either isn't ready or coming off the bench on Nov. 2, Ariza or Penny Hardaway will be promoted to starter. Hardaway is the more experienced of the two and a better shooter. But Brown likes Ariza's athleticism and his willingness to play defense, rebound and pass.