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When might Kyrie Irving return? It’s not as easy question to answer

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets have announced that Kyrie Irving will remain out with a right shoulder impingement for the upcoming three-game road trip against New York, Cleveland, and Boston.

Irving has missed the last four games with the injury after aggravating his shoulder against Denver on November 14th. The original injury is believed to have occurred two days before, although Kenny Atkinson hasn’t provided a specific play where it happened and there was no clear moment in the game where Irving seemed to show any real discomfort.

Following a 17-point, 8-for-20 shooting disappointment by Irving in Denver, Atkinson said it made the Nets rethink their plan for their star point guard.

“I think he really gutted that one out, quite honestly. Then we reconvened after that and said we have to get this thing right. For his long-term health and our long-term plan as a team.”

After originally being dubbed the all too familiar “day-to-day” on the injury report, Irving has now been out a week and by the time he’s re-assessed at the end of next week, it will have been two weeks since he last played.

Atkinson has said that the Nets would prefer to get Irving a full, pain-free practice before re-inserting him into the lineup.

Kristian Winfield of the Daily News spoke with Dr. John Kelly IV, the director of Sports Shoulder at Penn Medicine who provided some background on what a shoulder impingement entails:

“‘Impingement’ refers to excessive contact of the front rotator cuff tendon against the acromion — the part of the shoulder blade that compromises the front corner of the shoulder.”

Worst case scenario? “The longer he experiences pain not relieved by rest, the more likely surgery will be indicated,” Kelly told Winfield. Let’s not go there yet.

It’s important to note that Dr. Kelly has not treated Irving or seen his medical reports, so properly diagnosing Irving and when he might potentially return would be difficult.

Brian Sutterer, MD, who runs a popular YouTube channel diagnosing sports related injuries, recently dropped an educational video about what a shoulder impingement is and how it might affect Irving’s recovery.

As Sutterer says in his video, rotator cuff tears and shoulder impingements can go together, however, less severe shoulder impingements can exist without there being any rotator cuff damage.

Sutterer adds that initial rest as the Nets have prescribed for Irving is pivotal to lessen the irritation within the shoulder. Oral anti-inflammatory medications and even steroid injections to the shoulder are two other often used methods for monitoring a shoulder impingement.

“For Kyrie it’s all about rehab, rehab, rehab. You’ve got to strengthen those stabilizers in the shoulder,” Sutterer continues, “If you don’t take the time off and really let this calm down, you’re just going to have repetitive impingement that can then lead to a rotator cuff tear.”

Atkinson has said the Nets do not believe Irving’s injury is a long-term concern, but with championship aspirations over the course of the next four years, they’ll no doubt play it cautious with their max player.

When the NBA released this year’s schedule, this week was bolded by many in NBA circles as it was supposed to serve as a a reunion week for Irving with contests against his two former teams and the Nets’ crosstown rival who he spurned in free agency.

Now, with Irving ruled out for Wednesday’s showdown in Beantown and CelticsKemba Walker leaving Friday night’s game on a stretcher — his status for next week’s game presumably uncertain — ESPN’s blockbuster showdown now seems to have lost its juice.

In the short-term, Irving’s injury is frustrating, both for fans and the organization, but the Nets have weathered the storm well so far. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, and others on the team have picked up their play with Irving out, leading Brooklyn to a 3-1 record in his absence.

It’s a long season and an even longer four-year championship window with a lot of hopes and expectations attached. The usually over-cautious Nets medical staff is going to be even more cautious with their prized possession and by all accounts, it’s the smart move.

“Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up”

Until Brooklyn’s Dark Knight rises, the wait continues...