Every year Hornets fans say the same thing. "This is the year." I'm guilty of it. I thought last season after drafting Malik Monk, and trading for future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Howard was the year they'd break through. They finished 36-49 and in 10th place in the East. Most years it's the same. When the Hornets signed Lance Stephenson to bolster their playoff chances, they finished 33-49. In 2016, when they signed Nicolas Batum for the max and traded for Marco Belinelli, they finished 36-46.

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Fast forward to this season.

Charlotte fired head coach Steve Clifford. They fired GM Rich Cho. They traded Dwight Howard away. They let Michael-Carter Williams walk away. Clifford was replaced with Spurs assistant coach James Borrego. Ten-time NBA champion Mitch Kupchak replaced Rich Cho. Charlotte signed veteran Tony Parker and traded for former Hornet Bismack Biyombo. They drafted Miles Bridges and Devontae Graham. Hornets fans started to feel the annual optimism.

But here's why this year is different:

Additions

Charlotte named James Borrego as head coach to replace Steve Clifford. He went 4-1 in the preseason and had the Hornets at 2-1 and a missed game-winner from being 3-0. More importantly, the team looks much more cohesive and just better under Borrego. In the opener against Milwaukee, the Hornets trailed by as much as 20 and rallied back and had two chances to win in the final seconds.

They responded by pounding the Orlando Magic 120-88.

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In Miami, they led by as much as 26 and (in classic Hornets fashion) watched that lead dwindle to 1. Eventually, Miami tied it before Kemba Walker sunk a free throw with a half a second left on the clock for the win.

Tony Parker has provided a nice veteran presence and a more than capable backup for Kemba Walker. Last season, Kemba Walker had a 12.27 RPM Wins, which estimates the number of wins each player has contributed to his team's win total on the season.

He was ahead of Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in that category. His backup, Michael Carter-Williams, had a .94 RPM Wins. Walker had a 3.81 Real Plus-Minus, while Michael Carter-Williams had a -1.32.

Rookie Miles Bridges impressed in the Summer League with his athleticism. In limited minutes in the regular season, he has also impressed. He's averaging eight points in 14 minutes of action with four rebounds.

Improvements

Last season, Malik Monk averaged 13.5 minutes and scored 6.7 points per game, shooting just 36 percent from the field.

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There was a concern if Monk would join Hornets busts like Frank Kaminsky, Noah Vonleh, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Adam Morrison. This season, he's shown real improvement. He's averaging 28 minutes per game and scoring 14.5 on about 40 percent shooting.

Kemba Walker, despite recent trade rumors swirling [VIDEO], has steadily improved each season of his NBA career. He averaged 12.1 in his rookie campaign, then 17.7 for his next two. In 2017, it jumped to 20.9.

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Then the following season, 23.2. This season, as hard as it may be to believe, he has improved. He's averaging 35.33 points per game and Saturday he became the first NBA player in history to make at least five three-pointers in the first three games of a season. He tied Ray Allen for the most three-pointers made (12) over the first two games of a season. He holds the record (19) for the most threes made over the first three games of a season.

Sure, it's three games. But the Hornets of old would surely be 1-2 at this point and wouldn't have sniffed a comeback against Milwaukee. They surely would have collapsed against Miami. But this isn't the same team. Walker and Monk's improvement under new head coach James Borrego has Charlotte poised to contest in an Eastern Conference that suddenly isn't as daunting without LeBron James on that side.

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