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christopher l. gasper

Reality is Celtics were never good

Brad Stevens’ Celtics team has fallen on hard times in January.

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Brad Stevens’ Celtics team has fallen on hard times in January.

The Celtics have become trapped in a reality show. No, not the type of overdramatized drivel that is broadcast by Bravo, but the type of reality you can’t avoid by changing the channel. The reality of the Celtics’ season and their roster has come crashing down upon them.

It’s not tanking, if you’re losing and you’re really trying.

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That’s the position the Celtics, losers of 19 of their last 22 games, including four straight, find themselves in now. The Green lost to their brothers in lottery pick aspiration and salvation, the Philadelphia 76ers, 95-94, on Wednesday night at TD Garden. It was the Celtics’ final game of January, a month in which they went 2-15.

The 15 losses set a franchise record for a month. T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month. The Celtics would beg to differ.

Gerald Wallace said after Wednesday’s loss, “A game like this kind of lets you know where you stand.” The Celtics stand at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with the third-worst record in the NBA. They’re 5½ games out the final playoff spot in the East and 5½ games in the opposite direction from tying the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA.

They’re right where they’re supposed to be.

This was the way it was always going to be, Celtics fans. There is no use in fighting it. It’s the reality of the NBA ecosystem. Unless you’re in a desired free agent destination, you have to bottom-out to get back to the top. You don’t have to root against your team or grow indifferent to losing, but you should understand this is for the greater good of the Green.

Become emotionally invested in Jared Sullinger’s progress (his ceiling is somewhere between Paul Millsap and Kevin Love) and Rajon Rondo’s return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Continue to be befuddled by Jeff Green’s vacillation between foundation piece and fungible forward. Admire the hustle and professionalism of veterans Kris Humphries and Wallace.

But understand Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge constructed this roster with one destination in mind, and it wasn’t the playoffs. It was the draft lottery. Full speed ahead.

It wasn’t all bad news for the Celtics this week. Australian phenom Dante Exum hired an agent and declared for the 2014 NBA draft on Tuesday.

I hate to say I told you so, but . . . I wrote back on Dec. 8, when the Celtics were in first place in the Atlantic, that it was fool’s gold. They weren’t really a first-place team. Some angry e-mail missives flooded the old inbox.

I wasn’t trying to be a parquet party pooper. I was pointing out reality. The Celtics were not true contenders. They were like a singer lip-synching the words to someone else’s vocals. The music was shut off and their own discordant voice can now be heard loud and clear.

Former NFL coach Dennis Green would have been right about the Green. They are what we thought they were.

The Celtics haven’t spent one single, solitary second above .500. The last day the Celtics ended in first place at the close of play was Dec. 21, when they were 12-16. They’ve won three games since.

The Celtics are 29th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.26). They are 26th in offensive rating, points scored per 100 possessions, at 98.1.

As the rapper the Notorious B.I.G. once said, “It was all a dream . . . ”

Spare me the idea that the team was ripped from its cradle of contention by the trades of Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford. Ainge sold high on both.

Lee has played great for the Memphis Grizzlies since being dealt on Jan. 7, averaging 30 minutes per game and scoring 14 points per contest on 55.3 percent shooting from the field.

But he was playing only 16.8 minutes per night in Boston, and swapping him for Jerryd Bayless’s expiring contract was freeing the Celtics from a regrettable contract signed in hopes of extending the lifespan of the New Big Three era.

Crawford was a microcosm of the Celtics’ season. He looked better than he was because of what he was surrounded by and then reality set in.

Now that the Nets and Knicks have pulled their heads out of their basketball shorts, things have regulated for the Celtics and the Eastern Conference. The East is just a pit of bad basketball, not the abyss of abject ineptitude it was for the first two months of the season.

The Celtics probably can’t keep up this level of losing. Four of their next five games are against fellow lottery aspirants in Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Milwaukee.

Avery Bradley — and his much-needed shooting — are expected to return to the lineup on Sunday against the Magic.

Rondo should apply Rust-Oleum over his body like it’s Jean Paul Gaultier cologne. The Celtics haven’t won any of the six games he has played in, and he’s shooting 27.9 percent from the field. Rondo has never been a marksman, but he’s not that bad of a shooter.

Admittedly, there are no guarantees of a franchise-altering player in the lottery.

M.L. Carr’s “championship-driven” two seasons as Celtics coach produced 33 wins in 1995-96 and 15 wins in 1996-97 and drafts that brought Antoine Walker (1996) and Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer (1997).

But the alternative for Ainge to begin building a title contender was . . . there was never an alternative.

A lost season is the fastest way back to basketball relevance for the most storied franchise in the game.

These are the Real Hoopsters of Boston, and, like most reality shows, it isn’t pretty.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.

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