There's optimism New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could return late in the regular season from an ankle surgery, a significant part of the reason the NBA denied them a $7.8 million Disabled Player Exception in his absence, sources told ESPN.

The league informed the Knicks on Wednesday that it would be denying the organization's application for the DPE, largely because NBA doctors were unable to determine that Robinson would likely be out until mid-June, sources said.

Despite contrary reports, the Knicks have known of the possibility of a Robinson return and applied for the exception out of due diligence. The possibility of Robinson's return is immense for the Knicks, who have been buoyed with the outstanding recent play of backup center Isaiah Hartenstein. The Knicks have been on a torrid run since the trade for forward OG Anunoby, winning five streak games and moving into fourth place in the Eastern Conference at 22-15.

Robinson, 25, underwent surgery in December after sustaining the injury Dec. 8 against the Boston Celtics. Robinson had his best NBA season going, including a league-leading 5.3 offensive rebounds a game. Robinson has averaged 6.2 points and 10.3 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes a game for New York. He's in the second season of a four-year, $60 million contract.