By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you asked a a Sixers fan before the season who the most important player would be for their team this year, you’d probably hear names like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Andre Iguodala or Lou Williams. You’d certainly have been hard pressed to find someone say the name Spencer Hawes. What a difference a couple of months makes.

Sixers President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn spoke to 94 WIP’s Glen Macnow and Rob Ellis yesterday about what he thinks the key to the team’s big improvement has been this season.  “I think that we’ve had some young players that have gotten markedly better from last year to this. We’ve got young guys like [Nikola] Vucevic and [Lavoy] Allen who have helped us. But I think the one guy who got a lot better from last year to this year is Spencer Hawes,” Thorn said. “And with Spencer playing the way he played before he hurt himself. It put us to a different level. As far as what our potential is, and as far as the way we were playing.”

Hawes was a restricted free-agent before the season, and wasn’t satisfied with any of the long-term offers he received. He decided to sign a one-year deal with the Sixers, and come out and prove his value. When he’s been healthy this year, he’s done just that. “Hopefully he will be recovered from his Achilles injury, because he’s such a friendly ball mover, he’s a such a good passer. He was rebounding the ball at a clip he’s never rebounded before in the league. And he just gave us that big, you know, that you really need to be a really good team,” Thorn said. Hawes has missed 12 games this season because of the injury.

Listen to the entire interview:

Hawes didn’t play in Wednesday night’s Sixers loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but there were many who thought there was another reason for the loss, referee Violet Palmer. Palmer made several calls that fans and announcers alike thought were questionable, in favor of the Spurs. As it turns out, Thorn is one of the reasons Palmer is working as an NBA referee at all. “You know something guys back in the day when I worked for the NBA office, and I was the head of the referees, I hired Violet, way back,” he said. “You know something I think overall it normally evens up over the course of the season. Some nights you say ‘we didn’t get the greatest whistle in the world’, some nights you might get a better whistle than you deserve, I think overall those people do a real good job.”

But does Thorn think Violet Palmer called the game fairly on Wednesday? When asked, Thorn laughed and said “I’m too old to get fined guys.

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