It seems like an eternity since the Pacers were free of bad contracts and for good reason – it has been.

Back in 2000 the Pacers signed Austin Croshere to a huge contract following his performance in the NBA Finals. That deal began a domino effect of bad contracts over the next decade.

Austin Croshere had an impressive showing during the 2000 NBA Finals and was rewarded with a seven-year, $51 million contract. It turned out to be a big mistake.

Following an unimpressive 2001-02 season, the Pacers inked Jonathan Bender to a four-year, $28.5 million extension. Shortly after, injuries derailed his career.

After the 2002-03 season Indiana offered Jermaine O’Neal a max-contract for seven years and $126 million. He gave the Pacers a few good years, but his age and knees caught up to him leaving the team with another bloated contract.

The Pacers gave Jamaal Tinsley a six-year, $40.9 million extension in 2004. Everyone knows how that story ended.

In 2008, the Pacers threw a two-year $12.7 million extension at an aging, often-injured Jeff Foster. He barely played last season.

These are just the contracts the Pacers drew up. They’ve also taken on bad contracts from trades over the years – Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy being the most recent examples. They were still due a combined $80 million when they Pacers traded for them in 2007.

But fear not Pacers fans, the bloated contracts are almost gone – each and every stinking one of them.

At this point next year the Pacers will be committed to just four contracts, all of which are reasonable: Danny Granger (three years, $40 million), Dahntay Jones (two years, $5.6 million), rookie Paul George (two years, $3.9 million), and A.J. Price (one year, $884,000).

Indiana can pick up a team option on three others – Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert, and Tyler Hansbrough. All three would make less than $3 million for the 2011-12 season should the team retain them.

Even if the Pacers kept Rush, Hibbert, and Hansbrough they would enter the 2011 free agent market with roughly $35 million in cap room making them a major player.

While the 2011 free agent class doesn’t hold a candle to this year’s, there are some intriguing names on the list, including: Yao Ming, Tony Parker, Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Richardson, and Andei Kirilenko.

Don’t get too excited though Pacers fans, this could all change.

As the season wears on, Larry Bird will get numerous trade offers from teams looking to dump long-term contracts on the Pacers in exchange for some of their expiring contracts, particularly Murphy ($11.9 million) and Dunleavy’s ($10.9 million).

Many factors will determine whether Bird takes the bait. Nobody knows the level of his job security. If he is feeling pressure from ownership and the Pacers are falling out of the playoff race, he may trade for a player with a long-term deal and give up an expiring contract in hopes of instantly improving the team.

One thing is certain – Bird will have plenty of options in the coming year. We’ll all just have to wait and see what he does with them.