Phelps retired this summer after a final campaign in London which saw him end his career with 22 Olympic medals, having overtaken Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina's record of 18.
Phelps was adamant London, his fourth Olympics, was his final event but close friend and rival Lochte, speaking ahead of the World Short Course Championships in Istanbul, believes he could well return.
He told Press Association Sport: "Michael Phelps says he's retired. The sport will miss him, he is one of my favourite rivals and I will miss him. But I think he will come back.
"When you do something for so long every day...he's still young. I think he will be back for Rio.
"We'll see, he'll miss the sport."
Lochte acknowledges there is little, if anything, Phelps has not accomplished in sport, as well as understanding his former team-mate's desire to lead a "normal lifestyle".
Swimming also moves on very quickly, as Ian Thorpe, a legend of the sport, discovered when he did not seriously threaten his rivals for a spot on the Australian team at 2012.
Just a short space of time out of the water can leave a swimmer having to make up not only form but fitness.
Lochte, however, believes Phelps could counteract that, adding: "He has a lot of talent, he has taken months off before and still come back.
"I don't think it has an effect on him."
Lochte himself is the owner of five Olympic titles, and claimed a quintet of medals this summer although he did not eclipse Phelps as some had predicted.
The Florida Gator admitted getting back into the water after London had been especially difficult given he took two months off to make a number of TV and personal appearances.
He said: "I started doing other stuff. You get sucked in, it is really hard to get back in the water.
"At times I didn't care if I would get back in, it is so hard to get back in training mode."
A burning desire to compete in Rio was sufficient to see the 28-year-old eventually return to training.
"I had to get back," he added.
"The more I waited, the worse I am going to get.
"I had to just suck it up.
"I love racing, that is what excites me, standing up there on the blocks, going head-to-head, I enjoy that.
"That is why you will always see me at major championships - I love racing top people."
Lochte is set to race in up to nine events this week including three tomorrow, the 200 metres freestyle - the first race of the competition - the 100m butterfly and the 4x100m freestyle relay.
The American is not the only high-profile name due to compete at the Sinan Erdem Dome.
Ye Shiwen - who sparked such controversy when she finished her 400m individual medley faster than Lochte en route to his Olympic title in the summer - is also listed as racing.
Chad Le Clos, conqueror of Phelps in his 'unbeatable' 200m butterfly in London, former double Olympic champion Federica Pellegrini, Lochte's team-mate and 100m backstroke gold medallist Matt Grevers are all set to attend while new and former world record holders Akihiro Yanaguchi and Daniel Gyurta meet in a loaded 200m breaststroke.