Magic forward Grant Hill, a five-time all-star who came to Orlando in the offseason and instantly raised expectations for the team, will have season-ending surgery on his left ankle, the team announced yesterday.

The operation will entail removing a metal plate and five screws from the inside portion of Hill's ankle and replacing the plate with a bone graft from his pelvis, then inserting new screws. Hill, 28, who played the first six years of his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons, faces a six- to eight-month rehabilitation period, Orlando General Manager John Gabriel said.

The injury is a blow to the Magic (12-16), who cleared room under the salary cap last season to allow the acquisitions of Hill and shooting guard Tracy McGrady. Both players were free agents, landed in sign-and-trade deals. With a seven-year, $94 million contract, Hill is one of the NBA's highest-paid players.

"Obviously this isn't the way I wanted to begin my Magic career," said Hill, who grew up in Reston and played at South Lakes High before graduating from Duke. " . . . I am optimistic about the rehabilitation process and look forward to getting back onto the court and helping this team achieve its ultimate goals."

Hill was first injured at the end of last season and continued to play for the first two games of the Pistons' first-round playoff series against the Heat. He sat out the third game (the Heat swept) before having surgery April 28. That procedure inserted a plate and four pins.

"Our focus is to put Grant Hill in the best possible position to return as the player that we all know he is," Gabriel said. "We have great confidence in the outcome and wish Grant a speedy recovery."

The injury, which kept Hill out of the Olympics, has limited Hill to only four games this season. He played the opener against the Washington Wizards, in which he jumped the opening tip to show how sturdy the ankle was. Hill was shelved shortly thereafter, as the ankle never really recovered.

"We feel this operation will give Grant the best chance at a full recovery," said team physician Joe Billings, who will consult on the surgery.

Hill was averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 33.3 minutes in his four games. He said the injury had become a distraction to teammates.

"Can he go? Can he not go?" Hill said. "Is he injured? Can he practice? What's the deal? It just kind of became a distraction and that's the last thing I want to become."

"We are very disappointed by this development," Magic Coach Doc Rivers said. "The ultimate goal is to get Grant Hill healthy and back in uniform. Our goals as a team remain the same. We look forward to the battles and challenges ahead. We feel the same way today about Grant as we did when we signed him."

The Magic is the second Eastern Conference team to drastically change its roster, only to have its playoff hopes dashed because of unforeseen health problems. At a preseason physical, it was determined that Mourning, the Eastern Conference's dominant center, suffered from a kidney ailment that would end his season and possibly his career.

News services contributed to his report.