By NBF News

I don't know if you guys realize it, but we're pretty close to entering a new era in the NBA. No, not the superteam era kicked off by the Miami Heat , though that's happening too. Rather, I'm talking about a Shaquille O'Neal;_ylt=AicEAZJTTXtMeAhfGO8NPtfYrYZ4 (notes);_ylt=AqiiqCj5jef8.WW4ED_noGnYrYZ4 -free NBA for the first time since 1993. That's pre-Justin Bieber being born, people. It's kind of like a big deal.;_ylt=AntQJRoypok4MfKy8wQCbfjYrYZ4

And while we knew this day would come eventually, no one figured it would be next season. However, now that the Atlanta Hawks are signing Josh Powell**http%3A// , The Diesel might end up without a team. From ESPN's Ryan Corazza;_ylt=Ar1KSsE.Qrydu9bitBJaKerYrYZ4 :**http%3A//

As ESPN's Marc Stein reported earlier this week, the Hawks were the only team with a “live” interest in Shaq, but with them signing another center in Powell, it seems unlikely they'd also bring Shaq on board as well.

Bottom line: It's looking like Shaq needs to bite the bullet and drop his asking price — as well as his request for healthy playing time — or he may not be getting a contract at all for next season.

It's hard to even imagine what an NBA without the league's biggest goofball would be like, but after scoring just a shade more than 600 points last year it wouldn't be terribly surprising. Shaq's one remaining skill is being huge, and while he's very good at that, he doesn't have a lot left to offer. Some post scoring, sure, but that often comes at the expense of a free-flowing offense. And let's not even consider defense, since Shaq doesn't.

[ Rewind: Shaq denied access to the White House**http%3A// ]

That being said, odds are that someone will bite the bullet and add O'Neal. He'd have to agree to come off the bench, but he'd also be great at that since most backup centers aren't that good. Furthermore, he's always a good pickup from a marketing standpoint. Everyone knows who he is, and lots of people like him even if he does steal television show ideas on the reg;_ylt=As61pMncU5EMlBI_yS9GPP_YrYZ4?urn=nba-184111 .

Of course, if O'Neal ends up unemployed he'll go down as one of the more successful players in history. He's currently seventh in all-time scoring, has four championships, an MVP and 15 All-Star appearances. Pretty great career, even if it could have been exponentially better considering his size and athleticism.

However, the true tragedy if O'Neal is forced to retire is that he will not have had the chance to wear every purple jersey in the league. I mean, he looked so good in his Lakers and Suns uniforms that he should really have a shot to don the purple and black of the Sacramento Kings;_ylt=Al5JPZ0TC0tl_.6pXcpUtPPYrYZ4 . Such a flattering color.