- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- Kobe Bryant said it's been hard to watch the Los Angeles Lakers as they've struggled in his absence, but it turns out he doesn't like watching the NBA in general with the way it is currently being played and officiated across the league.
"It's more of a finesse game," Bryant said before the Lakers played the Chicago Bulls on Monday. "It's more small ball, which, personally, I don't really care much for. I like kind of smash-mouth, old-school basketball because that's what I grew up watching. I also think it's much, much less physical. Some of the flagrant fouls that I see called nowadays, it makes me nauseous. You can't touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul."
Bryant said that the hand-check rule that was introduced nearly a decade ago during the 2004-05 season has made it easier for less-talented players to succeed. Bryant said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni is at least partially responsible for the shift in style of play across the league.
"I like the contact," Bryant said. "As a defensive player, if you enjoy playing defense, that's what you want. You want to be able to put your hands on a guy. You want to be able to hand check a little bit. The truth is, it makes the game [where] players have to be more skillful. Nowadays, literally anybody can get out there and get to the basket and you can't touch anybody. Back then, if guys put their hands on you, you had to have the skill to be able to go both ways, change direction, post up, you had to have a mid-range game because you didn't want to go all the way to the basket because you would get knocked ass over tea kettle. So I think playing the game back then required much more skill."
Of course, Bryant has scored close to 5,000 points on free throws since the '04-05 season, but he said he doesn't think the rule change has benefited his career in any tangible way.
"Probably not," Bryant said. "Us players, upper-echelon players, are going to do what they do no matter what the rules are. It's not going to make any difference."
Is there any chance the league could revert back to the no harm, no foul ways of the 1980s?
"Kids might be a little too sensitive for that nowadays," Bryant said with a smirk.
Bryant, who was a kid himself when he signed with the Lakers out of high school at age 17, also took aim at the league's controversial one-and-done rule that was introduced in 2005-06 that requires high school players to either attend a year of college or wait until they turn 19 years old before they become NBA eligible.
"We probably see players that came out of high school were much more successful on average than players that went to college for a year," Bryant said. "It seems like the system really isn't teaching players anything when they go to college. You go to college, you play, you're showcased and you come to the pros. That's always been the big argument: As a player, you have to go to college, you have to develop your skills and so forth and so on and then come to the league. So, we kind of got sold on that, sold on that dream a little bit and, fortunately, I didn't really listen too much to it. Neither did [Kevin Garnett], neither did LeBron [James] and that worked out pretty well for our careers."
Speaking of James, Bryant doesn't believe there will be a torch passed from him to the four-time MVP -- or any other player for that matter -- when he retires, which could happen as soon as the 2015-16 season, when his current contract with the Lakers expires.
"I've never looked at it as the torch is being passed," Bryant said. "Even when the Magic [Johnson], Michael [Jordan] or [Larry] Bird, that kind of transition from Dr. J [Julius Erving], as a kid growing up I always looked at it as athletes represent different things. It's like what Magic represents to the game, what Bird represents to the game is different than what Michael represents to the game. It's not the same torch. They're picking up their own thing and they're carrying their own generation their own way.
"So, I don't look at it as a passing of the torch. I look at it as different athletes doing different things. What LeBron does is different than what [Kevin Durant] does. What they both do is different than what I do and so forth and so on."
Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers' 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he has "zero" doubt that when he returns to the lineup -- perhaps as soon as early February -- he'll still be the same player he's always been.
"There was [doubt] before I came back the first time because I didn't know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing and changing directions," Bryant said. "The game in Memphis I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to being able to what I normally could do. So, I feel pretty confident. I feel pretty confident about it. I did play that second half with a fractured leg and a [formerly] torn Achilles and I played pretty well, so I feel pretty good about my chances."
Bulls coach and USA basketball assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who worked Bryant out back when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers and Bryant was playing at nearby Lower Merion High School, said there was a chance he'll convince Bryant to play in the 2016 Olympics.
"You always try to talk him into it," Thibodeau said with a smile.
Bryant, who won back-to-back gold medals with Team USA in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London, said he won't be reuniting with Thibodeau in Rio.
"Nope," Bryant said. "I'll go and spectate. Maybe I'll go watch Pau [Gasol] win another silver."
Bryant also reiterated his stance that he appreciates the fans who have voted for him to play in the All-Star Game in New Orleans on Feb. 16, but with him having only played six games this season, there are others who are more deserving.
"I'm always looking forward to playing in All-Star Games," Bryant said. "It's always been something that's always been a huge honor. That being said, I haven't played this year. I think some of the younger guys who have been out there and they've been performing and playing extremely well and are All-Star worthy should be the ones out there playing."
Kobe Bryant said it's been hard to watch the Los Angeles Lakers as they've struggled in his absence, but it turns out he doesn't like watching the NBA in general with the way it is currently being played and officiated across the league.