It appears the Pacers will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Donnie Walsh threw a cherry bomb in the toilet on his way out of the Pacers organization.

Donnie Walsh threw a cherry bomb in the toilet on his way out of the Pacers organization.

Until this recent downfall, the Pacers were a lock to make the playoffs each year for the better part of two decades.

All teams have to rebuild eventually. The problem is, the Pacers aren’t really rebuilding. They’re stuck.

A long trail of bad decisions by former team president Donnie Walsh and current decision maker Larry Bird has the Pacers in a tough spot.

Rather than blow the thing up and start over, the Pacers are hampered by numerous bad contracts and won’t get significant salary cap flexibility until 2011.

Barring some magical trades, things aren’t going to change a whole lot over the next few years.

Problem No. 1: Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy
In a frantic effort to shed its bad image, Indiana traded Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to Golden State for Murphy, Dunleavy, and two bloated contracts a couple years ago.

Jackson and Harrington were owed less money and their contracts would’ve expired after the 2009-10 season.

Instead, the Pacers are stuck with Murphy and Dunleavy through the 2010-11 season. Together they make about $20 million a year, more than a third of the current salary cap. That’s a steep price for a couple of guys that can’t play defense. Both players will turn 29 this year and there’s virtually no chance anyone will pick up their monstrous contracts in a trade.

Problem No. 2: Jamaal Tinsley
In the NBA, player’s contracts are guaranteed. Meaning, when Walsh decided to give Tinsley a six-year extension in 2004, they were stuck with him for better or worse. Turns out it was worse.

Tinsley has been perpetually injured and is now being paid by the Pacers to stay away from the team. This year he is taking up $6.75 million in cap space and is owed more than $14 million over the next two seasons – more money the Pacers can’t spend on players who actually contribute. It has become painfully obvious the team will never be able to trade him.

Problem No. 3: T.J. Ford and Jeff Foster
Giving Jermaine O’Neal a league-maximum contract was another brutal mistake by the Pacers and even though he’s gone, the Pacers are still paying for it. Following this season, the Pacers will still owe often-injured point guard T.J. Ford – acquired in the O’Neal trade – $17 million over the next two years. In his first four seasons, Ford missed 75 games and he’s missed seven games so far this season.

The Pacers also gave Jeff Foster a two-year contract extension worth more than $6 million a season – a hefty deal for a 32-year old with a bad back and a one-dimensional game.

Wholesale cap relief is far away. For now, it’s best to get used to this starting lineup: T.J. Ford, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and Jeff Foster.
For now, the Pacers can only hope that rookies Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert progress … and that the lottery balls are kind.