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The Celtics struggled during their early years, until the hiring of coach Red Auerbach. In the franchise's early days, Auerbach had no assistants, ran all the practices, did all the scouting—both of opposing teams and college draft prospects—and scheduled all road trips. One of the first great players to join the Celtics was Bob Cousy, whom Auerbach initially refused to draft out of nearby Holy Cross because he was "too flashy. " Cousy's contract eventually became the property of the Chicago Stags, but when that franchise went bankrupt, Cousy went to the Celtics in a dispersal draft. After the 1955–56 season, Auerbach made a stunning trade, sending perennial All-Star Ed Macauley to the St. Louis Hawks along with the draft rights to Cliff Hagan for the second overall pick in the draft. After negotiating with the Rochester Royals—a negotiation that included a promise that the Celtics owner would send the highly sought-after Ice Capades to Rochester if the Royals would let Russell slide to #2—Auerbach used the pick to select University of San Francisco center Bill Russell. Auerbach also acquired Holy Cross standout, and 1957 NBA Rookie of the Year, Tommy Heinsohn. Russell and Heinsohn worked extraordinarily well with Cousy, and they were the players around whom Auerbach would build the champion Celtics for more than a decade.

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