The NBA’s Eastern Conference has been a joke for longer than some of its players have been alive. Since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls wrapped up their second threepeat in 1998, the West has seen multiple dynasties rise — the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, and now the Golden State Warriors — while the East has been LeBron James, a couple brief blips from the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, and little else.

With the Warriors looking nearly unbeatable for years to come, the question isn’t even when the East will tip the balance of power back their way. When, exactly, is a conference with almost none of the league’s top players going to win even one title? Unanimous A.I. had a swarm of Inverse readers weigh in, and they predict that we are in for a wait.

In a nutshell, each participant controlled a little golden magnet below, and used it to drag the puck toward the answer they thought was the most likely outcome. Also, the closer a user puts the magnet to the puck, the greater the pulling force. This is where the hive-mind comes in: If a user sees the puck move toward an outcome, it triggers a psychological response. The user starts to readjust their decision-making, building toward a consensus. To read more about how Unanimous A.I. uses swarm A.I. to reach scarily accurate predictions, check out our previous article on how Unanimous A.I. uses “swarm intelligence” to make predictions.

When Will an NBA Team from the East Win the Finals?

For a second there, it looked like the swarm was thinking the 2019-2020 season could be when an Eastern team could break through. But a last-second move saw the timeline pushed back a season. The swarm predicts there is another three seasons of Western dominance ahead of us.

That suggests Inverse readers aren’t confident in the ability of LeBron James and the Cavaliers to win another title, as they did in all-time legendary fashion by rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Warriors in 2016. Considering fellow Cavalier Kyrie Irving has reportedly asked for a trade before this season, and there’s plenty of speculation James may leave after this coming season, that all makes sense.

The swarm didn’t need to have any specific team in mind when making this prediction, but the likeliest candidate for a first title in 2020-21 is the Boston Celtics. The team just added Gordon Hayward to a 53-win team, but it’s all its young prospects — Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and a bunch of future high draft picks — that have the team and its fans looking a few seasons ahead for when its championship window will be most open.

This prediction is also a reflection of just how ridiculous the Warriors now are. Golden State dominated en route to their second NBA title in three years, coming one Cavs win short of an undefeated 16-0 run through the playoffs. Whatever weaknesses were revealed when the team lost in the 2016 finals were erased by the addition of megastar Kevin Durant, and the team looks set to dominate for the foreseeable future. Even if they do lose — injuries are always possible, and were a factor in the 2016 defeat — most of the non-LeBron contenders are in the West: The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder all at least have a shot. And, of course, none of them winning would end the Eastern Conference’s run of futility.


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More “Swarm AI” predictions from the Inverse NBA series:

Photos via Getty Images / Rob Carr