Could Pacers be dark horse in Ben Simmons trade sweepstakes?

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Let’s start with the latest Ben Simmons trade buzz… there is none. The 76ers withheld his $8.25 million advanced payment due to Simmons on Friday, and while that generated headlines, it was expected. The pressure on Philly to trade Simmons, or for Simmons to cave and show up to training camp, has not changed.

Meanwhile, real Simmons trade talk between the 76ers and other teams continues to be nearly dead, sources tell NBC Sports. Teams have settled into their rosters for the start of the season. Until a franchise suffers a significant injury, or gets off to a slower-than-expected start (or, maybe faster), there is nothing to change that dynamic and spark a deal.

When that change happens, could Indiana be a dark horse, the sleeper team that gets in the race? In a round of speculation on Simmons’ destinations on ESPN’s The Jump today, both Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst suggested the Pacers could get into the Simmons sweepstakes.

What Indiana has is a lot of good players on movable contracts: Malcolm Brogdon ($21.7 million), Domantas Sabonis ($18.5 million), Miles Turner ($17.5 million), Caris LeVert ($17.5 million), T.J. Warren ($12.7 million), Jeremy Lamb ($10.5 million). Could a couple of those players plus a couple of future first-round picks be enough to interest the 76ers? Not at the Hardenesque prices Sixers GM Daryl Morey has been seeking, but as his price comes back down to earth, and if he thinks he can flip the firsts for someone else… maybe? It’s a long shot right now but not off the table. However, if Morey is going to bring down his price that much, he will have plenty of options beyond Indiana.

Indiana could also be part of a three- or four-team trade to get Simmons moved (expect Oklahoma City, the only team left with significant cap space, to be part of any multi-team deal).

Morey and Philly reportedly are targeting Western Conference teams for Simmons once a trade does happen. Simmons wants to go to a team where the offense is better built to show off his skill set, but he has little leverage because he has four guaranteed years left on his contract.

For now, the Simmons saga drags on, and it could be a long-running soap opera.