2024 NBA Draft: 'Uncertainty' is the theme for 1st-round prospects, even those at the top

NEW YORK — Twenty-four top NBA Draft prospects entered the second floor ballroom of Lotte New York Palace on Tuesday afternoon, all hopeful to hear their names called in the first round of Wednesday night’s event.

Alex Sarr, the 7-foot-1 phenom who last played for Perth of Australia’s NBL, declined Atlanta’s efforts to host him for a workout, but told Yahoo Sports that won’t dissuade him from reporting to the Hawks should he ultimately be the selection at No. 1 overall. “I’ll play for any team that drafts me,” Sarr said Tuesday. “For me, the most important thing is if a team is willing to take a chance on you, you just have to go there and play hard. There’s no such thing as being picky or not wanting to go somewhere.”

Washington, picking No. 2, has been labeled by league personnel as the Sarr camp’s preferred destination, as the Wizards are in the beginning stages of a long rebuild with no clear-cut franchise cornerstone. “It’s a great organization,” Sarr said. “They’re a young team, and I think they’re going in a great direction.”

UConn center Donovan Clingan appears destined to be the next big man off the board, if he isn’t the top selection to Atlanta. Clingan worked out for the Hawks and told reporters he sees the potential for strong pick-and-roll chemistry with Atlanta’s guards. The Hawks, of course, are expected to engage rival teams on trade scenarios for both Trae Young and Dejounte Murray throughout this offseason. The Lakers, Pelicans and Spurs remain three destinations that would be appealing to Young, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and teams in the lottery are not discounting the possibility the Spurs could engineer a move up to the top slot, which could open the door for Atlanta possibly selecting Clingan at No. 4.

Alexandre Sarr, French professional basketball player who last played for the Perth Wildcats of the Australian National Basketball League, meets the press during a press preview for the 78th edition of the NBA's annual draft at the Lotte New York Palace in New York, on June 25, 2024. The draft will be held June 26 and June 27, 2024. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Alexandre Sarr speaks to the media during a news conference for the NBA Draft at the Lotte New York Palace on Tuesday. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Spurs currently hold the fourth selection in addition to the No. 8 pick, and San Antonio was able to book Clingan for a Zoom meeting this past weekend, sources said. With both Portland and Memphis known to hold interest in trading up and acquiring Clingan, according to league personnel, there’s no shortage of NBA figures who believe this late San Antonio interest in Clingan could simply be a ruse with the goal of enticing another front office to move up and land the UConn center. The Spurs originally focused on pinning Victor Wembanyama next to a strong-shooting center, such as Zach Collins, and Clingan, for all his strengths on defense, is not exactly a proven commodity from distance.

But after his interview with the Spurs, Clingan seemed intrigued by the option. “It was good to be able to get to know [San Antonio] more and show them who I am as a person and get them to learn a little bit more about me,” Clingan said. “And I feel like the me and the Wemby connection is something that could really work out. I’m just excited for tomorrow night.”

The general sense of uncertainty surrounding Wednesday night’s order was palpable throughout all three sessions that scattered eight prospects around the ballroom. With no decisive top prospect, NBA teams have been preparing for all kinds of volatility and movement up and down the draft board, while the players echoed that sentiment. “I have no idea where I’ll go,” said Colorado forward Cody Williams. “There’s going to be a lot of trades.” Williams did say he worked out for every team picking in the top 10. Ron Holland, a G League Ignite product, agreed. “There’s so much uncertainty,” said Holland, who worked out for Atlanta, Charlotte, Portland, San Antonio, Chicago, Miami, Sacramento and Oklahoma City.

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding Providence guard Devin Carter being a possible pick for San Antonio at No. 8. Carter grinned while envisioning throwing lobs to a “big target” like Wembanyama. Carter has been one of the biggest risers in this class. He worked out for Memphis – where his father, former NBA player Anthony Carter, is an assistant coach – Utah, Chicago, Miami and the Lakers in addition to San Antonio.

Nikola Topić, the 6-foot-7 Serbian point guard, has also been a name rival executives posit is under consideration for the Spurs. Topić said Wednesday that he visited San Antonio, Utah, Portland, Memphis and Houston while he nurses a partially torn ACL. When asked for his expected draft range, Topić also projected an uncertainty. “I hope by 15,” Topić said with a smile. “I hope by 20.” League figures don’t expect him to fall that far and have pinned a potential backstop for Topić at No. 18 to Orlando, as the Magic hired Topić’s father, Milenko Topić, a former Serbian head coach, to the team’s front office this past season, according to league sources. The point guard confirmed as much to Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, saying, “He didn’t really like coaching. This scouting job, he’s having a lot of fun traveling and watching players.”

Oklahoma City is currently slated at No. 12 with bushels of future first-round picks to potentially move up in this draft. One name that has been repeatedly mentioned for the Thunder, should OKC stand pat, has been Pittsburgh guard Bub Carrington. Carrington rose quickly up scouting boards with dynamic play as a freshman for the Panthers. He even admitted being invited to the green room, let alone being in this draft, has been quite an unexpected leap. “The plan was to be at Pitt for two, three years,” Carrington said. In addition to OKC, Carrington revealed he worked out for San Antonio, Utah, Orlando and Miami.

Baylor freshman center Yves Missi is another youngster tracking toward being selected in the top 20. Missi has been linked in recent days to the Lakers, and he told Yahoo Sports that Los Angeles was one of his first workouts. “They’re looking for a big man that can sometimes play with AD and sometimes play without AD as a backup,” Missi said. The Baylor product also mentioned Philadelphia as another potential landing spot.

Ke’lel Ware, the Indiana sophomore, is right in the mix with Missi among this second tier of big men behind Sarr and Clingan. Ware confirmed on Tuesday that his pre-draft process consisted of workouts with 16 different teams. He continues to be mentioned by league personnel as a candidate for Toronto at No. 19.

Finding a home for USC guard Isaiah Collier, the former top-ranked high school prospect in this class, has been a bit more challenging than most of the green room invites. To his credit, Collier was relaxed at his podium, optimistic and hopeful for what could unfold Wednesday night.

“I still think I’m the best player in the draft,” Collier said. “I know what I’m capable of.” Collier listed Chicago, San Antonio and Miami as three potential destinations.

  • Cleveland, picking No. 20, is receiving plenty of inbound calls from teams at the end of the first round about moving up, according to league sources. From Houston picking No. 3 to Philadelphia picking No. 16 and down the line, many teams seem prepared to wait to field the best and final offers for their selection before moving forward on any trade scenarios.

  • As the Bucks gauge the trade market for Brook Lopez, they have left rival teams with the impression the No. 23 spot could be focused on a potential long-term replacement at center. Milwaukee attempted to bring Dayton big man DaRon Holmes II in for a workout, sources said. Holmes declined the invite, but not because of a widely whispered promise with Denver at No. 28, according to league sources. While Holmes indeed shut down his workout schedule — prompting teams to suspect a promise somewhere in the late first round — and Holmes could certainly be an option for the Nuggets at that spot, there has been no guarantee Denver would select him, sources said. Holmes has garnered interest from enough teams to earn a green-room invite. He’s been connected by league personnel to Sacramento as well.

  • Should Memphis ultimately decide to trade down from No. 9, Miami at No. 15 has been viewed as a possible move-up team mentioned by NBA figures.

  • There continues to be buzz about Dallas engaging multiple teams on deals that could offload Tim Hardaway Jr. to the point league personnel believe the Mavericks have a deal on the table — but one that would still bring back salary. Dallas needs to unload Hardaway’s $16.2 million for the 2024-25 season in order to pay standout wing Derrick Jones Jr. above the $5.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception. Should Dallas make a Hardaway move and still ultimately not come to terms with Jones on a return following his starting role in the NBA Finals, Pelicans wing Naji Marshall is expected to draw interest from the Mavericks, sources said, and the Pistons.

  • Word among team executives persists about Sacramento’s efforts to trade for veteran help with the No. 13 pick and some combination of Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes, but there have yet to be credible rumblings about any major deals regarding either Hawks All-Star guard, Pelicans All-Star swingman Brandon Ingram, or any other player of that magnitude.