MINNEAPOLIS — With the Timberwolves’ franchise headed toward an apparent crossroads, the team’s inaugural star sees two possible trajectories.
Acceptance, or assertiveness. Average, or aggressively more than that.
"Are we gonna continue to be conservative?" swing man Tony Campbell asked FOXSportsNorth.com in a phone interview. "Or are we gonna get a little progressive?"
As one of those who helped reestablish the NBA in the Twin Cities following the Minneapolis Lakers’ departure for Los Angeles, Campbell asks himself the same question every time he logs into NBA League Pass broadband and sees a team with a talented core sitting at or below .500 and in very real danger of missing the playoffs for a 10th straight season.
When the former swing man, now a 51-year-old high school coach and administrator, first came here, fans were just thrilled to have pro hoops again. From 1996-2004, they were rewarded.
Campbell is still a loyal Timberwolves alum. But he wouldn’t mind seeing those folks receive some results-based gratitude again someday.
"I always look at the team and try, myself, to get a feel for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it," said Campbell, who’s back in Minneapolis on Monday to be honored as part of the organization’s 25th anniversary. "I’d say I have a lot of opinions on what could be done or should be done with the team, but a lot of my opinions mean nothing. The question is what does management want to do? Are they happy with being conservative and running a successful franchise from the standpoint that it’s making money, or are we willing to be a little progressive and make some big decisions that pay off in the playoffs and translate to championships?"
Progressive was the name of the game when original owners Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner brought the expansion team to Minnesota before the 1989-90 season. Drafted 20th overall out of Ohio State in 1984 and later signed by the Lakers, he was the Timberwolves’ first-ever free-agent pickup.
From the time Campbell first stepped foot on the Metrodome hardwood, that transaction proved highly beneficial for both parties.
"The best part was the fans," Campbell said. "They always showed tremendous support and broke many records attendance-wise in that huge dome. I think that helped, but the fans were just amazing, very supportive and very loud. It was always good to come home and play a game; having that many people supporting you, that was priceless."
Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 215 pounds during his playing days, Campbell led Minnesota in scoring all three seasons he spent here. His best campaign was the first one, when he scored in double figures in all 82 games, produced almost a fourth of the Timberwolves’ points and made 723 field goals — a mark that’s still 10th all-time for a single NBA season.
The team traded him to the Knicks following the 1991-92 season. After spending part of the next season there and in Dallas and finishing out his career in Cleveland, the New Jersey native got into the education field.
For the past seven years, he’s served as high school athletic director for Bay Ridge Preparatory School in Brooklyn. His duties include coaching boys soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.
"When they say Coach Campbell," Campbell said, "they mean it."
Also a proud father, Campbell keeps close tabs on the Timberwolves in his spare time. Of special interest to him — and, indeed, most Minnesota hoops followers — is the organization’s plans for current franchise-face Kevin Love, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
Campbell never reached the stardom of Love, who will play in his third All-Star Game this weekend and ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring and second in rebounding.
But he does know a thing or two about being a team cornerstone — and hopes the Timberwolves do what they can to keep their active one around.
"Are you gonna build around him or lose him and pretty much backpedal and have to start all over again?" Campbell said. "That’s the question I have in my mind, but that’s a decision (owner Glen Taylor) and (president of basketball operations) Flip (Saunders) have to make.
"It’s gonna be a tough decision, but in a lot of businesses, that’s what about people in charge get paid the big bucks to do. I think they will make the right decision to help create a better team, whatever that is."