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beat writer's notebook

How Jeff Van Gundy landed with the Celtics, and seven other training camp nuggets

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens (left) had a chance to chat with Jeff Van Gundy before a 2022 playoff game at Brooklyn.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Shaking my notebook after two weeks of Celtics training camp …

▪ Even though the Celtics recently hired former coach and television commentator Jeff Van Gundy as a senior consultant, this role will not be entirely new for him.

“Jeff has been an unofficial consultant for so many of us that grew up in coaching for a long time,” Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said in a text message Sunday night. “He’s so humble and approachable, and has always gone out of his way to spend time helping others.”

Van Gundy coached the Knicks and Rockets before beginning a lengthy career at ESPN, where he became one of the network’s top game analysts and was part of the NBA Finals broadcast team. He was laid off in June during a sweeping series of cost-cutting moves, and reports afterward cited his interest in a return to coaching.

Stevens said he and coach Joe Mazzulla agreed it would be smart to try to bring Van Gundy into the organization. Van Gundy and Stevens connected during the NBA Las Vegas summer league in July, and there were early discussions about adding Van Gundy to the coaching staff.

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That never came to fruition, but Van Gundy eventually accepted a consulting role instead. In this position he will serve as an advisor to the coaching staff as well as the front office.

“We’re happy he’s here to lend his experience, expertise and wisdom to our group,” Stevens said.

▪ When the Celtics faced the 76ers in recent years, Mazzulla often found himself on the court when Philadelphia assistant Sam Cassell was putting star guard Tyrese Maxey through pregame workouts. Cassell’s work stuck with Mazzulla, and it was one of the reasons Mazzulla added Cassell to his staff this summer.

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Cassell has conducted individual workouts with Jayson Tatum after almost every practice the first two weeks of camp.

▪ Speaking of good timing, Mazzulla and associate head coach Charles Lee’s initial connection was made when they happened to be sitting next to each other during a dinner at the Las Vegas summer league two seasons ago.

“[Mazzulla] kind of questioned me on what I was doing in the offseason project-wise to better myself as a coach,” Lee said, “and I kind of threw the questions back at him. We hit it off.”

▪ Derrick White’s extension talks continue, but the deadline is inching closer. The Celtics and White have until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 23 to agree to a deal. White has two years remaining on the four-year, $70 million pact he signed with San Antonio before being traded to the Celtics.

▪ Opposing offenses relentlessly hunted Celtics forward Sam Hauser last season because they viewed him as the weak link in an otherwise dangerous defensive unit. Interestingly, Boston’s defense was actually 4.6 points per 100 possessions better with Hauser on the floor. This was partly because Hauser held up at that end, and partly because opponents sometimes veered from their general approaches in order to hunt a perceived mismatch.

Nevertheless, Hauser acknowledged that there were uneasy moments at the start of the season, and he intends to start this year with more confidence and knowledge.

“I think the first half of the year I struggled, and then the back half of the year I got a lot better,” Hauser said. “So over the summer, just repping it out, working on positioning and footwork and all that stuff. [Offenses are] going to continue to [challenge me], I’m sure, so I’m ready for it.”

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▪ Mazzulla has been holding some long, intense practices during training camp. Kristaps Porzingis said that Jaylen Brown and Tatum were “going at it” at the end of Saturday’s competitive session.

“Very competitive practice with a lot of kind of exhausting, like, hard drills,” Porzingis said. “But, yeah, great energy and having fun while doing it.”

Boston’s stars have been used sparingly during preseason games. Porzingis was asked whether practice battles are how this group will build chemistry as the season approaches. But he said game action remains most essential.

“Especially training camp, it’s high intensity, everybody’s kind of like running around, it’s a little bit of chaos,” Porzingis said. “I think once we get on the floor and we have more of that focus, like playing five-on-five actual game minutes together, the better off we’ll be from that.”

The media was scheduled to get a rare glimpse of a full scrimmage near the end of Saturday’s session, but Mazzulla stopped practice a bit early to give the team a break.

▪ There are only so many shots and points and rebounds to go around, so when multiple stars are added to a team, it’s natural for individual statistics to dip a bit. Count Porzingis among those who will not care.

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“If at the end you’re winning, what are you sacrificing?” he said. “Nothing. Your own stats for winning? That makes sense. I do that trade every day.”

▪ Jay Scrubb impressed the Celtics during summer league and they were excited to see the 23-year-old perform on his two-way contract. But his season almost certainly came to an end when he tore his ACL during a workout Oct. 7. Scrubb is with the team for now, but look for Boston to eventually fill that slot with a healthy player.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.