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The End of the Spurs Dynasty?

Being a Boston native, I've read more articles the last few weeks about the Celtics' demise than I'd care to acknowledge. And sadly, these writers are probably right -the C's have looked old, slow and downright out of their league against the league's best teams this year. But with all the Celtics talk, there has been little mention of the fall of another great team of recent vintage: the San Antonio Spurs.

Looking at the Spurs' record and statistics, the casual observer won't think there is much wrong in San Antonio. Sure, they're in the lower half of the West's playoff contenders, but haven't they seemingly always come out of the middle of the pack in the West every year? Yeah, they've had injuries this year, but didn't they face injury troubles throughout the last decade as well? And besides, isn't Tim Duncan having his best season in recent memory? With the pleasant surprises of George Hill and DeJuan Blair, the Spurs should be fine, right? Not necessarily.

Of greatest concern to Spurs fans should be their performance in big games this year. Over the last month, the Spurs have dropped home games to Dallas, Utah, Houston, Chicago and Denver. Combine those with road losses to Charlotte, Portland and the Lakers, (minus Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum) and the Spurs are 8-9 over the last month, with all of their losses coming to projected playoff teams. In fact, only six of the Spurs' 29 wins this season have come against teams that would make the postseason if the playoffs started today. Even worse, all of those six wins have come at home. Where do the Spurs play 20 of their remaining 32 games? Away from the friendly confines of the AT&T Center.

But why are the Spurs looking so mortal this season? After examining the statistics, their struggles have come mostly from their lack of ability to shoot the ball. Minus Blair and Hill (both of whom have seen very limited minutes this year), all of the Spurs' non-Duncan options have seen their numbers drop off significantly on the offensive end.

Richard Jefferson unquestionably has been San Antonio's biggest disappointment this year. Brought in with a $14 million salary to provide the Spurs with instant offense, Jefferson instead has put up his worst scoring and rebounding numbers since his rookie year. He's shooting 32|PERCENT| from the field over his last five games, and has topped 15 points only once since the beginning of January. And Hill's recent emergence has pushed Jefferson farther down San Antonio's offensive food chain. Oh, and fear not Spurs fans, Jefferson is only on the books for another $15 million next year.

Jefferson isn't the only Spur playing well below career standards. Tony Parker's scoring, field goal shooting, steal and rebound numbers are all his worst in five years. Manu Ginobili has his worst shooting percentage ever. Roger Mason, the team's designated outside gunner, is shooting well below the standard he set last season. Antonio McDyess, the prize free agent signing this offseason, hasn't panned out. And once-valuable role players like Matt Bonner and Michael Finley have been hurt for significant parts of the season, and virtually invisible during the times they've actually played.

Of course, there's always the Duncan factor, and Timmy D has, to his credit, been playing better than he has in years. But Duncan can't carry the load by himself, especially at his advanced age. With the schedule only getting tougher and the Spurs' secondary players only seeming to get worse, this could be the year that the great Spurs dynasty finally comes to a crashing halt.