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Rajon Rondo, happy with Kings, says Dallas issues made him work harder

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A revitalized Rajon Rondo attributed his resurgence this season with the Sacramento Kings in part to motivation stemming from his disappointing stint with the Dallas Mavericks.

"I think it made me hungrier," Rondo told ESPN.com after scoring 21 points and dishing out five assists during Monday's 112-98 win over the Mavericks, the first time he faced Dallas since his departure. "I never started doubting myself. It made me work a little bit harder. I think I worked the hardest I ever worked in the NBA this summer.

"I'm a competitor. I never doubted myself. All these people have counted me out since I got in the league, so it never made me any difference. I kept myself around positive people, got a great support system and just kept at it."

Rondo's statistics with the Kings are up significantly across the board from his production with the Mavericks, whom he joined last December after arriving as the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics. He signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with Sacramento this past summer and acknowledged that his stint with the Mavericks "no doubt" hurt his value in free agency.

Rondo, who is in his ninth season in the NBA, is averaging 12.9 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Kings. He averaged 9.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds during his 29 games with the Mavericks, repeatedly clashing with coach Rick Carlisle and never clicking in Dallas' flow offense.

"Every relationship doesn't work," Rondo said. "It just didn't work. No excuses. No pointing the finger at anybody. It made me stronger, made me appreciate just playing the game, especially playing at a high level. I never doubted myself. It just didn't work.

"Try to keep staying positive, but things just didn't work out for the best for either side. And that's just part of it. Every player, every coach doesn't always see eye to eye. Every team doesn't fit every person's style of play."

Rondo left the Mavericks in the middle of their first-round series against the Houston Rockets. The team announced the day after Game 2 -- in which he played less than 10 minutes, sitting all but the first 34 seconds of the second half -- that Rondo had suffered a back injury and would not play the remainder of the season.

Rondo insisted Monday that the back injury was legitimate, the result of hitting the floor while he tried to take a charge.

"What else was reported?" Rondo said. "You didn't hear from me, did you? I haven't said a word, so ..."

ESPN.com reported in April that the back injury was given as the reason for Rondo's departure to help the four-time All-Star point guard save face after the sides mutually agreed that it was in all parties' best interests for him to leave the team.

Rondo acknowledged that he probably could have played through the back pain. However, he said he did not want to be a distraction, as the friction between Carlisle and him was dominating the conversation about the team.

"Both parties talked about it," said Rondo, who was suspended for a game in February after heated confrontations with Carlisle during and after a comeback win over the Toronto Raptors. "I didn't want to draw too much negativity to the team. And I may have done that anyway, but I didn't want to be a part of that. People said what they said about me, but like I said, it didn't bother me at all.

"It ended up hurting anyway. But me just sticking around, I didn't want any more attention between myself and Rick, all the media attention it was getting. People were seeing stuff on the floor and making up plays I took off. It's like, some plays I may take off to this day. I was tired, so you just never know. I just wanted to get out of there and lay low. I had a talk with my agent, but that's water under the bridge."

Rondo said he has "nothing but love" for the Mavericks organization, specifically mentioning several staff members. On Sunday night, he hosted a dinner with two Dallas assistant coaches and forward/center Dwight Powell, who also was part of the trade from the Celtics and whom Rondo refers to as "my rookie." Rondo shook hands with the entire Mavericks coaching staff before Monday's tip, including Carlisle.

Carlisle has said he has no regrets about what happened after Rondo joined the Mavericks.

"Listen, we all did everything we could to make it work. It was challenging," Carlisle told ESPN.com last week. "Going back in time, it's a deal we should have shied away from, for the sake of us and for the sake of him. It's a deal we shouldn't have made.

"I think we all realize that now, but when you do a deal like that, you've got to do everything possible to make it work. I learned a lot going through the year with him and trying to be creative and use some of his unique abilities. He's a very talented player, and he's having a great year this year, which is basically no surprise."

Rondo is thriving as a focal point for the 7-12 Kings, who are 6-5 in games played by center DeMarcus Cousins, whom Rondo calls "the best big man in the league hands down" and "an MVP candidate by far." Rondo appreciates that his new teammates look to get him the ball and that coach George Karl has given him freedom.

"The way I play, you could say he's given me the keys," Rondo said. "This is still his team. We're on the same page most nights. We talk every game. We talk every shootaround. Tomorrow, we'll talk. What can I do to get better? What's he expect out of me? He wants my defense to get better. He wants my turnovers down. Whatever the case may be, there's always communication.

"Like I said, I've learned from what happened in the past. Not just Rick, but [Celtics coach] Brad Stevens, just playing for different coaches. Everyone has different personalities. George and I right now, and I think we will continue to, stay on the same page."

Rondo had a brief conversation with Carlisle during Monday's game. He interrupted Carlisle's huddle with Deron Williams near the Dallas bench during the first half, trying to eavesdrop on Dallas' strategy.

"He just told me to get the f--- out of here," Rondo said with a laugh. "Yeah, I've heard that before."